Study looks at psychosis and autism spectrum disorder

Felicity Larson

A study by Dr Felicity Larson, a Clinical Psychology Doctorate student at the School of Psychology, and colleagues from the University of Cambridge is the first report on a large number of people with the dual-diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and mental health problems featuring psychotic experiences.

This means conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and schizoaffective disorder, where sufferers can experience a disconnection from reality and sometimes frightening or disturbing experiences such as hallucinations.

The study, which will be published open access in the British Journal of Psychiatry next year, looked at the experiences of more than 100 individuals with the dual diagnosis of ASD and psychosis. It found that people with ASD who experience psychosis might differ from people with ASD who don't develop psychosis in terms of the features of their ASD. It also found that compared to a more general sample of people with psychosis, people with ASD in the study had lower rates of schizophrenia and higher rates of ‘atypical psychosis’, meaning that the symptoms and experiences of people with ASD who have psychosis are likely to be significantly different to the general population. This is the first study of its kind and will hopefully encourage further work in this area, as people with ASD seem to be at greater risk of developing psychosis than the general population but mainstream mental health services often feel ill-equipped to understand and help them.

Reference
Larson, FV, Wagner, AP, Jones, PB, Tantam, D, Lai, M-C, Baron-Cohen, S, Holland, AJ. In press. Psychosis in autism: a comparison of the features of both conditions in a dually-affected cohort. Br. J. Psychiatry.