Small study finds high rates of clinically significant psychiatric problems in children with ASD


Previous studies trying to reach an understanding of the rate of co-morbid psychiatric problems in children with autism spectrum disorders have reported significantly varying findings.

The authors of this matched control study wanted to look at patterns of co-morbid psychiatric problems in such and their parents compared a group of controls matched for IQ, and their parents.

There were 59 (88%) boys and 8 (12%) girls in the ASD group. Similarly, 57 (85%) of the control group were male and 10 (15%) were female.

They evaluated behavioural and emotional problems in a sample of 67 children with autism spectrum disorder (59 male/8 female) and in a group of 67 children matched on age and IQ (57 male/10 female).

They measured these problems using the ‘Child Behavior Checklist’ a parent-report questionnaire, where children are  rated on internalizing (i.e., anxious, depressive) and externalizing (i.e., aggressive, hyperactive,) behaviours. They also looked at parental psychological distress in both the study and control groups and used the Brief Symptom Inventory for this, which is an inventory of 53 items used to look at the intensity and number of reported symptoms.

They found from the Child Behavior Chcklist that the majority of parents reported their child with ASD as having either internalising or externalising problems. They found however in the control group that more parents reported their children having externalising rather than internalising problems.

They found that nearly 45% of the autism spectrum disorder group met clinical criteria for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and that 46% met the criteria for anxiety problems. The scores from the Brief Symptom Inventory suggested that 22% of fathers and 24% of mothers of the children with autism spectrum disorder had scores that indicated possible psychopathology.

The authors conclude from this small study that

high rates of clinically significant psychiatric problems were detected in ASD children, with anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder being the most frequently detected syndromes.”

Mental health aspects of autistic spectrum disorders in children, Skokauskas, N. & Gallagher, L., in Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 56: 248–257

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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