Autism Spectrum Disorders and Mental Health Diagnoses
NPR published an article this week about the prevalence of Mental Health diagnoses in those with an Autism diagnosis (http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/10/01/554461501/many-young-adults-with-autism-also-have-mental-health-issues). While it is not shocking to read that many young adults who have a diagnosis of ASD also have a co-morbid (additional) mental health diagnosis, I was somewhat surprised to read that youth on the spectrum are more than FIVE times likely to have an additional diagnosis such as depression, anxiety or ADHD. (The article states that the study they are referencing found that 52% of young adults with Autism also have a mental health diagnosis.)
The author quotes a young man on the spectrum who states, “Relationships are so much harder” for those on the spectrum and living in a world that is often fast-paced and filled with nuanced communication can often feel very lonely. We hear this from our own campers all the time. Depression and anxiety often stem from feeling disconnected and different. When our campers live in a world that doesn’t feel like it “fits”, they often feel “less than”, lowering self-esteem and pride. We feel lucky to be a part of a community that enables our campers (and staff) to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, a community where they feel like they belong and aren’t alone. We witness a great sense of relief in our campers during the summer because they are less anxious and happier being surrounded by friends.
The article also points out how difficult periods of transition are for youth with an ASD diagnosis. The author writes:
“Transition for youth with autism is a very challenging process,” Davidson says. “It is doable, but it takes a lot of preparation and a lot of time on the part of the families, on the part of the patient and on the part of the providers. The earlier one starts, the better.”
“Research literature suggests that it’s good to start learning daily living skills, such as laundry, cooking, bathing alone and similar chores, around 12 to 14 years old, Davidson says. But she believes that should start as early as possible, depending on a child’s intellectual, social and mental health disabilities.”
“Youth on the autism spectrum may need repetitive modeling and experiences so that they get those skills down and become as independent as possible,” Davidson says. Too many families, she says, do tasks for their adolescents long past when the teen could do them on their own. Other youth continue to need support for what might seem like basic tasks, so parents and care providers have to work to learn the boundaries and abilities for each person on the spectrum.”
Of course, we know that sleep-away summer camps in general, and Camp Akeela in particular, provide precisely the opportunities for independence that this article suggests are necessary. Being away from home in a safe environment, like camp, allows campers to practice the skills necessary for them to be successful later on in their young adulthood.