Depression: We’ve all been there before. According to the World Health Organization, “an estimated 350 million people are affected” (2016). Depression can be (and often is) debilitating no matter who goes through it. However, when it comes to those with autism, depression can have hidden causes that few consider. That’s why for this article, I’ll go into two potential causes in autistic people and some things that might help.
Fruits, Vegetables, and Exercise
Autism and one’s diet may have a lot more in common than many realize. To quote The Mayo Clinic, “several studies have found that people who ate a poor quality diet … were more likely to report symptoms of depression.” This can be a hard problem to solve, not only because people with autism are usually picky eaters but also because those who’re lower-functioning might suffer a meltdown if their food routine and selections are taken away. One solution is to simply eat those same processed, fatty foods in smaller amounts; Combine this with a little exercise and a lot of water throughout the day (with the possibility of taking a multivitamin to fill in any nutritional deficiencies).
The following webinar from the Autism Research Institute illustrates what can be done nutritionally within budgetary limitations to help prevent and reduce health conditions in adults with ASD. The presenter, Erika Laurion, MS, CNS, CDN, is a nutritionist who works as a consultant for group homes of adults with disabilities.
Germ Awareness and Personal Hygiene
Scientists have also been discovering that depression is often associated with inflammation. The germs were exposed to (as well as viruses and parasites) can easily wreak havoc on our bodies, so our immune system kicks in, causing much of our body tissue to swell up in varying fashions. That’s why we’ve all been told since we were kids to wash our hands and brush our teeth, and scientists are now realizing that this may have consequences that reach far beyond mere cleanliness. Given that people on the spectrum tend to have insufficient hygiene habits, coupled with research suggesting that bacteria may play a role in mood, it’s plausible to consider that modifying one’s personal hygiene may make a positive impact on autistic depression. But what needs to occur? The answer involves a greater degree of germ awareness (although not to the level of germophobia); this entails washing hands more with hotter water, brushing and flossing twice a day (consider mouthwash, too), and spraying down all doorknobs and surfaces with Lysol. Daily showers are also a MUST. If you’re on the spectrum, then you may not be used to much of that. But in the end, it’s more than worth it.
Looking into the Future
Depression for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder can be very confusing and problematic. Until recently, very few understood its root causes and contributors. Now with newer research methods and growing support, we’re getting closer to the answers we need. Diet and hygiene may play even bigger roles than previously thought, so that’s why it’s so important to address them. Hopefully, with these insights and further research, autistic depression can be more properly managed and eventually eliminated.