Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology Research

Mental Health Issues among Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychology Research

Mental Health Issues among Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Adolescence is often viewed as a period of time of increasing independence for youth and a period of a change in the relationship between adolescents and adults (Benson and Elder, 2011). Adolescents with developmental or psychological difficulties may face additional challenges during the teenage years leaving them prone to higher rates of mental illness. The increased rates of identification of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) require clinicians, educators, and caregivers to gain a better understanding of challenges associated with autism spectrum disorders and the effects of such during the adolescent years. Though many individuals with ASD are identified and diagnosed prior to entering school, it is important to recognize that as a developmental disorder it will impact individuals and families through the lifespan. Specifically, individuals with ASD face challenges in social interactions, communication, and behavior, which may negatively impact their daily functioning. In addition to an increasing complexity of cognitive and organizational tasks placed upon adolescents at home and in school there are also new social relationships with increased subtleties and complexities to which adolescents are exposed. These daily tasks are especially apparent during adolescence, due to increased social pressure that may cause individuals with ASDs to experience increased marginalization and isolation. As a result, individuals with ASD may be particularly at risk for additional co-morbid mental illnesses during adolescence. For example, Bradley, Summers, Wood, and Bryson (2004), reported individuals with ASD experience general deterioration in functioning during these years as a result to extreme stress associated with social impairments. The current chapter discusses the presence of co-morbid psychiatric diagnoses in adolescents with autism. In addition to discussing the rates of comorbity of other conditions, this discussion will also include changes in family functioning and support of individuals with autism spectrum disorders in adolescence. Empirical research regarding evidence-based prevention and intervention services is discussed, with an emphasis on implications for supporting adolescents with ASD.

AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-IV-TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000), autism and Asperger's syndrome are classified as pervasive developmental disorders. The concept of autism was first introduced by Kanner in the 1940s, during which he described two behavioral features of autism to include, 1) aloofness and indifference, and 2) intense resistance to change in the child's own repetitive routines (Shapiro and Accardo, 2008). Asperger's disorder, on the other hand, was introduced by the work of Hans Asperger in the 1940s, during which he described individuals with Asperger's to have average to high average intelligence, but appear socially inappropriate/inept and physically clumsy. Though changes in diagnostic criteria have occurred over time (e.g., Kanner, Rutter, DSM-III, DSM-IV, ICD-10), and are being considered for future revisions to the DSM, the current criteria in the DSM-IV TR and ICD-10 are in general agreement on the similarities and differences between the two disorders.

Based on DSM-IV-TR criteria, autism and Asperger's share the following characteristics: 1) qualitative impairment in social interaction, and 2) restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. The key diagnostic difference between the two disorders is that children with autism display qualitative impairments in communication, while children with Asperger's do not display impairments in communication. Also, individuals with Asperger's can be differentiated from those with autism based on their level of cognitive functioning and adaptive behavior, which are generally age appropriate and their main development delays occur in the areas of social interaction. …

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