A new study shows that positive well-being — a sense of happiness and life satisfaction — is linked to a lower risk of developing depression in newly employed adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at 12 months follow-up.
Many individuals with autism spectrum disorder experience poor mental health outcomes in adulthood. And while previous studies have looked at the negative aspects of health and well‐being in ASD, researchers say that positive well‐being remains understudied.
In the new study, published in the journal Autism Research, investigators followed 36 newly employed adults with ASD for 12 months and reviewed their changes in daily living skills, job satisfaction, depression, anxiety, and positive well‐being. The participants, ages 18 to 57, were participating in a supported employment program.
Overall, there was a small increase in daily living skills and a slight decrease in job satisfaction, but all other measures remained stable over time. Analysis revealed that, controlling for baseline depression, positive feelings of well‐being reduced the likelihood of depression at follow‐up.
The findings provide evidence that positive well‐being may help buffer against depression in people with ASD. This suggests that intervention programs that specifically target mental health and well-being in the workplace may be needed to improve outcomes.
The researchers say that more studies are needed to uncover the exact mechanisms underpinning mental health and well‐being outcomes in employed adults with ASD.
“While previous research has tended to focus on the negative aspects of mental health such as depression and anxiety, in this study we felt it was also important to focus on positive well-being — a construct often overlooked in autism research in adulthood,” said lead author Dr. Darren Hedley of Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre at La Trobe University in Australia.
“There needs to be more mental health research involving adults with autism, and it is particularly important to understand what predicts good mental health and better outcomes overall.”
Approximately 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder with boys being four times more likely to receive a diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2018.
Nearly half of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job. Research demonstrates that job activities that encourage independence reduce autism symptoms and increase daily living skills, according to Autism Speaks.