Suicidal Ideation and Comorbid Disorders in Adolescents and Young Adults with Asperger's Syndrome: an Exploratory Study of a Population at Risk
Oren Shtayermman, PhD, Rhode Island College.
Description of the problem: Previous studies have explored the comorbid clinical disorders in children and adolescents with Asperger's Syndrome (AS), but no study to date has explored suicidal ideation among adolescents with AS. Currently, there are no data on the prevalence of suicidal ideation among adolescents and young adults diagnosed with AS. Purpose of the study: This exploratory study examined: 1) the level of suicidal ideation, prevalence of comorbid psychiatric disorders, and degree of peer victimization; and 2) the association of suicidal ideation with: age, age at diagnosis, severity of AS symptomatology, Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or degree of peer victimization. Methods: A cross-sectional study using a self-administered mail questionnaire and a web-based questionnaire were used. Questionnaires were completed by each adolescent or young adult diagnosed with AS and one of his or her parents of that adolescent or young adult. Two samples were selected for this study. The first sample used snowball sampling, starting with parents of adolescents or young adults diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (AS) who participated in a 2002 study. The second sample consisted of a volunteer sample of parents who visited one of the following web sites: 1) Asperger's Syndrome Parent Education Network; 2) Advocates for Individuals with High Functioning Autism, Asperger's Syndrome and other Pervasive Developmental Disorders; and 3) the National Alliance for Autism Research. A link to the web-based survey was placed on the “Research Projects” page of each of these web sites. There were four domains of independent variables: 1) sociodemographic characteristics; 2) clinical characteristics; 3) comorbid psychiatric disorders; and 4) psychosocial functioning. The following measures were obtained from the adolescent or the young adult diagnosed with AS: Level of suicidal ideation (Suicidal Ideation Questionnaire-SIQ), Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Patient Health Questionnaire Adolescent version-PHQ-A), peer victimization measures (overt victimization, relational victimization, prosocial behavior, total degree of peer victimization using the Social Experience Questionnaire), Measures that were gathered from the parent were: the Krug Asperger's Disorder Index and use of educational and mental health services. Results: Fifty percent of the sample had clinically significant levels of suicidal ideation, 20% met criteria for a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder and 30% met criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Bivariate analyses revealed that severity of AS symptomatology was negatively correlated with level of suicidal ideation (r = -.88, p = .01). Age of the adolescent or the young adult diagnosed with AS was negatively correlated with severity of AS symptomatology (r = .-97, p = .001). Implication for social work: Implications for social work include: 1) studies of suicidal ideation and comorbid disorders in adolescents and young adults diagnosed with AS should include a large probability sample that will allow a more detailed investigation of the potential risk factors for suicidal ideation; 2) social work practitioners and mental health professionals should be aware of the potential risk factors for suicidal ideation among adolescents and young adults diagnosed with AS that were identified in this study.