Autism Spectrum Disorder and Co-Occurring Conditions

Over the past few years, we have learned many things about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) -- two of which are extremely important. First, the potential of those on the spectrum is unlimited. Second, and the focus of this brief piece, is that ASD is more complex than previously thought. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - 5th edition (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) officially recognized what many have long known. Individuals with ASD also have other challenges, especially in the area of mental health.

Recent research has shown that over 90% of individuals with ASD have mental health challenges (cf. Salazar, 2015). The following shows the percent of those on the spectrum who experience specific mental health challenges:

Depression and anxiety: 80%
Attention deficit disorder: 59%
Phobias: 53%
Motor and/or vocal tics: 17%

Why is it important to understand these complex needs? We need to ensure that learners with ASD have the interventions and treatments they need. Understanding the characteristics of those on the spectrum is the first step.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.

Salazar, F., Baird, G., Chandler, S., Tseng, E., O’Sullivan, T., Howlin, P., Pickles, A., & Simonoff, E. (2015). Co-occurring psychiatric disorders in preschool and elementary school-aged children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45, 2283-2294.