NCMH collaborates in new study offering fresh insight into autism in adults

Roughly 1% of the population is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) over the course of their life. ASD is a group of conditions, which develop in early childhood, but may not be identified until adulthood.

Compared with children, little is known about the experiences of adults with ASD, or about lifetime outcomes or genetic characteristics.

Dr Jack Underwood

A team of researchers led by Dr Jack Underwood (pictured above) 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.

Gathering the data

Our field team at NCMH recruited adults with ASD, who 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 Underwood, a 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.

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Catrin Hopkins

Catrin is the Communications Officer for the NCMH and Cardiff University's MRC Centre.

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