The Influence of Social, Educational, and Work Experiences on Psychological Health for Transition-Aged Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Posted April 18, 2023

Dr. Julie Taylor, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Dr. Somer Bishop, University of California, San Francisco

Adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience higher rates of depression during their lifetime, compared to both typically developing individuals and those with other developmental disabilities. Researchers have been working to validate or adapt existing behavioral interventions (such as cognitive behavioral therapy) or psychopharmacological protocols to treat depression and other internalizing disorders among ASD youth. Unfortunately, these interventions are often ineffective in reducing depressive symptoms, likely because they only address a subset of the possible contributors to poor mental health (biology and cognition) and do not effectively consider the role of difficult life experiences in the development and maintenance of depression. Many aspects of social, vocational, and educational experiences can be changed, making them ideal potential targets for interventions to improve psychological health for people with ASD.

Dr. Taylor
Dr. Julie Taylor
(Photo Provided)

Dr. Bishop
Dr. Somer Bishop
(Photo Provided)

With support from an Autism Research Program (ARP) fiscal year 2019 (FY19) Idea Development Award, Dr. Julie Taylor of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Dr. Somer Bishop of the University of California, San Francisco, are working to identify day-to-day experiences associated with depressive symptoms and quality of life (QoL) among adolescents and young adults with ASD. Drawing from existing research and clinical registries, they recruited 252 youth between the ages of 15 and 25 years and their parents. Using self- and parent-report data from surveys, diagnostic interviews, and end-of-day (EOD) reports, they are now examining relationships between depressive symptoms, QoL, and multiple types of educational, vocational, and social experiences among these youth. Initial analyses have revealed high rates of depression diagnoses in this group. Additionally, EOD reports collected each evening from these same youth showed that 43.7% of their time was spent alone, while 25.2% of their time was spent interacting with others. Interestingly, both the amount of time spent in social interactions, as well as how the youth reported feeling about those interactions, were independently associated with depressive symptoms. Additionally, the amount of time spent alone was not associated with QoL or depressive symptoms. This suggests that considering both the quantity and quality of social interactions is important when studying the psychological health and well-being among autistic youth.

While analyses are ongoing, these preliminary analyses are uncovering important associations that shed light on how day-to-day activities are related to depression and QoL among adolescents and adults with ASD. The knowledge gained from this project will inform clinical efforts to improve psychological health in adolescents and young adults with ASD.


Public and Technical Abstracts: The Influence of Social, Educational, and Work Experiences on Psychological Health for Transition-Aged Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Last updated Wednesday, April 19, 2023