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Study reveals new insights into Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis in adults

14 Ionawr 2020

clinician and patient

ASD is a group of conditions, which develop in early childhood, but may not be identified until adulthood. The past decade has seen a growth in services for adults presenting with ASD in the UK.

Roughly one percent of the population are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) over the course of their life. Compared with children, little is known about the experiences of adults with ASD, or about lifetime outcomes or genetic characteristics.

A team of researchers led by Dr Jack Underwood at Cardiff University have conducted a study which provides important information about the presence of more than one psychiatric disorder in adults with ASD which may inform clinical practice and patient counselling. This e-cohort study aimed to examine the presentation and genetic characteristics of adults diagnosed with ASD by specialist services.

Adults with ASD were recruited by the National Centre for Mental Health (NCMH) and completed self-report questionnaires, interviews and provided DNA; 105 eligible individuals were matched to 76 healthy controls. Demographics, social history and psychiatric and physical health were investigated. Compared with matched controls they had very high rates of additional psychiatric and neurological conditions, with almost ninety percent having at least one psychiatric condition, as well as fewer social supports.

Dr Jack Underwood, WCAT Research Fellow, said: “Our findings suggest that a majority of adults with ASD have psychiatric comorbidity and should be appropriately screened and managed. Additionally, clinicians should be aware of some of the other social demographic features which came up, including high rates of unemployment and alcohol problems.

These findings place a real emphasis on the importance of signposting toward third sector organisations and services supporting adults with ASD. The hope is that our results may also help inform these services about the possible difficulties some people diagnosed with ASD in adulthood may face.”

This study is a reminder that the effects of ASD are complex. As access to specialist teams improve it is important for the focus not to be solely on diagnosis, and the life experiences of autistic adults require holistic approaches from services.

The paper, ‘Autism spectrum disorder diagnosis in adults: phenotype and genotype findings from a clinically derived cohort’ is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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