When children have diverse needs…

April 5, 2023

Children with autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions are far more likely to have additional mental disorders, according to a report authored by the Children’s Health Policy Centre and released April 5/23.

The report concludes that effective treatments for all these disorders already exist and should be made readily available to all children who need them.

Sponsored by the BC Office of the Representative for Children and Youth, the report begins by identifying the prevalence of common mental disorders for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and intellectual disabilities.

Available data show that the five most common childhood mental disorders overall — anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant and conduct disorders, and depression — are much more prevalent for children with neurodevelopmental conditions.

For example, estimated prevalence for any anxiety disorder was nearly eight times higher for children with ASD. Estimated prevalence for ADHD was more than 14 times higher for children with FASD, and estimated prevalence of oppositional defiant and conduct disorders was nearly four times higher for children with intellectual disabilities.

The report then goes on to identify effective treatments for at least one mental health concern for all three neurodevelopmental conditions. Specifically, cognitive-behavioural therapy leads to clinically meaningful reductions in anxiety disorder diagnoses and symptoms for children with ASD — across multiple studies. As well, parent training successfully reduces behaviour challenges for children with FASD and intellectual disabilities. And emerging evidence shows that social skills training helps children with FASD.

The report concludes: “Services also need to be offered in ways that celebrate children’s strengths and recognize their preferences, thereby meeting society’s collective responsibility to ensure that all children can flourish and meet their potential.”

The report may be found here.