Comorbidity in autistic individuals across the lifespan


To determine the role of mental health conditions in autistic adults.


In this study we focuseed on adults who received their diagnosis in adulthood. We observed that most of the included study participants were approximately 19 years of age when they had their first contact with a mental health care professional (range: 2-78 years!). De main referal reasons were: social problems, & anxiety- and moodproblems. The most common earlier diagnoses were anxiety- and mooddisorders or psychosis related disorders. There were remarkably little differences between those who in the end did or did not receive an autism diagnosis. Those adullts who did receive an autism diagnosis in the end, were in touch with mental health care in an earlier stage of their life (approximately 15 years earlier!). Moreover, they had a smaller number of earlier diagnoes, but the type of earlier diagnoses did not differ. In a follow up study we studied co-occuring mental health conditions a among a large group of adults aged 18 to 80 years. The most prevalent co-occuring conditions were anxiety- and mooddisorders, which were especially prevalent among the middle aged autistic adults. In the relatively old group (>55 to 80 years old) we saw a bit lower prevalence of co-occuring conditions. Especially social anxiety disorders were less common in this older group. Another noteworthy finding was the high prevalence of premenstrual syndrome in autistic females when compared to non-autistic females. So studying hormonal effects seem to be important. In yet another study we focussed on the relationship betweem autistic traits and depression symptoms in old aged adults known with a history of depressions and a group of older autistic adults. Especially the feeling of mastery seemed important for linking depression and autism traits. While this link was visibile in both included groups, the autistic adults reported a much lower feeling of mastery as compared to the older group of people with a long history of depressions.

Related publications

Autism and depression connected: A report of two complimentary network studies Van Heijst, B.F.C., Deserno, M.K., Rhebergen, D., Geurts, M., Autism. doi: 10.1177/1362361319872373.
Autism characteristics in older adults with depressive disorders Geurts, H.M., Stek., M., & Comijs, H., American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 24, DOI: 10.1016/j.jagp.2015.08.003
Is older age associated with self- and other-reported ASD characteristics? Lever, A. G., & Geurts, H. M., Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1, DOI: 10.1007/s10803-017-3444-2
Psychiatric co-occurring symptoms and disorders in young, middle-aged, and older adults with autism spectrum disorder Lever, A.G., & Geurts, H.M., Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46, DOI: 10.1007/s10803-016-2722-8