This introduction to Mental Health Awareness Month is written by developmental pediatrician Daniel Coury, medical director of Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (AS-ATN). Dr. Coury is also the chief of developmental-behavioral pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and we all should be aware of this. Famiilies affected by autism are particularly aware of the ways that their loved ones with ASD are affected by their condition, with repetitive behaviors, mood swings and irrational fears. But they may not be quite as aware that some of these difficulties may reflect more than just issues seen in individuals with ASD. Having a diagnosis of autism doesn’t mean that a person can’t have a diagnosis of high blood pressure or diabetes, and it doesn’t mean that person can’t have another behavioral health condition.
While that seems logical, it is only recently that the concept has taken hold among medical professionals. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fourth edition (DSM-IV) discouraged use of more than one mental disorder diagnosis in persons with autism. While individuals and families have seen the short attention span, overactivity, fears and other symptoms of other mental health disorders, the thinking was that this was probably better explained by the underlying ASD condition. That has loosened up somewhat, and along with the work of many clinicians we are better at recognizing problems such as anxiety, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression in persons with ASD than we have in the past. Recognition of these conditions, and implementing appropriate treatments for them, can improve the lives of these individuals and their family members.
This month we will be running several blogs addressing mental health conditions frequently seen in ASD, with descriptions of their symptoms and treatments that have the potential to reduce the impact of these conditions on their daily activities. We hope these are helpful to you.