Autism Spectrum


leaving school and leading your own life

Mental health




What do we know about mental health and autism

A number of studies have found that young people with autism are at increased risk for experiencing anxiety and depression.

In a recent study conducted by Aspect, over 75% of a group of 300 young adults with autism reported that they experience frequent worry or stress.

Seventy percent identified as having a mental health condition.

So you and your son or daughter need to be aware of possible mental health problems and how to seek professional assistance if necessary.

The good news is that young people with autism can be treated using the same kinds of approaches that have been shown to be effective for the typical population.

What may be needed, however, is some modification of the approaches to allow for the unique difficulties of people with autism.

Examples of these modifications may include

  • simplification of any information provided
  • use of visual supports
  • concrete techniques such as role plays
  • lots of repetition and homework
  • involvement of family members with permission of the young person.

The most common mental health conditions in people with autism are:

  • ADHD
  • Aggression
  • Self injury
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sexualized behaviours
  • Psychosis
  • Tics

(from Mental Health Issues in ASD: Medical and psychological management by Dr Linnet Basil and Dr Michelle Wong )


Early intervention

It is always better to intervene as early as possible with mental health issues.

Regular conversations with your child’s GP or paediatrician about mental health are a good idea during the teenage years.

If you have concerns, you may decide to find a psychiatrist who has some expertise with young people with autism, and again this is better done earlier than later.

Mental health problems can respond very well to treatment, usually a combination of medication and some kind of talking therapy.

This is more effective if started as early as possible.

There are some terrific books and websites where you can find information and advice: 




Mental Health Line

You can call for advice and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week across NSW.



Headspace is Australia’s national youth mental health foundation. The website has lots of information for young people and for parents and carers.

There are Headspace centres which young people can attend all over Australia, find them all here.

eheadspace is an online service. Online and telephone counselling and support is available for young people aged 12 – 25 and their families.

Parents and carers can get help from Headspace too, read the section here.



Reachout is the leading online source of mental health help and support for young Australians aged under 25.

It is full of information, videos and fact sheets. Young people will find it speaks to them in their own language. This is an invaluable resource.

Nobody wants to think their child will harm themselves… but forewarned is forearmed and here is a webpage to help:

What to do in an emergency


NSW Council for Intellectual Disabilities website

For those young people with higher support needs there is a good link on NSW Council for Intellectual Disabilities website that talks about mental health in very simple language, click here.



Managing Anxiety in People With Autism: A Treatment Guide for Parents, Teachers and Mental Health Professionals, by Anne Chalfant.

The Autism Spectrum and Depression by Nick Dubin.

CBT for Children and Adolescents with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders, edited by Angela Scarpa, Susan Williams White and Tony Attwood.


When to seek professional help

If you feel that your son or daughter would benefit from professional help you can talk with your GP and obtain a referral to a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. Medicare rebates are available.

Anxiety and depression are the most common co-morbid mental health conditions for young people with autism.

The Beyond Blue Website has an easy to use symptom checker that helps to determine if someone should speak to a health professional, find it here.

A list of all NSW Health services can be found here.

If you or your son or daughter need to talk to someone immediately, Lifeline is a 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services contactable on 13 11 14.