Association of Autistic Traits With Depression From Childhood to Age 18 Years.

JAMA Psychiatry. 2018 Jun 13;:

Authors: Rai D, Culpin I, Heuvelman H, Magnusson CMK, Carpenter P, Jones HJ, Emond AM, Zammit S, Golding J, Pearson RM

Importance: Population-based studies following trajectories of depression in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) from childhood into early adulthood are rare. The role of genetic confounding and of potential environmental intermediaries, such as bullying, in any associations is unclear.
Objectives: To compare trajectories of depressive symptoms from ages 10 to 18 years for children with or without ASD and autistic traits, to assess associations between ASD and autistic traits and an International Statistical Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision (ICD-10) depression diagnosis at age 18 years, and to explore the importance of genetic confounding and bullying.
Design, Setting, and Participants: Longitudinal study of participants in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children birth cohort in Bristol, United Kingdom, followed up through age 18 years. Data analysis was conducted from January to November 2017.
Main Outcomes and Measures: Depressive symptoms were assessed using the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (SMFQ) at 6 time points between ages 10 and 18 years. An ICD-10 depression diagnosis at age 18 years was established using the Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised. Exposures were ASD diagnosis and 4 dichotomized autistic traits (social communication, coherence, repetitive behavior, and sociability). An autism polygenic risk score was derived using the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium autism discovery genome-wide association study summary data. Bullying was assessed at ages 8, 10, and 13 years.
Results: The maximum sample with complete data was 6091 for the trajectory analysis (48.8% male) and 3168 for analysis of depression diagnosis at age 18 years (44.4% male). Children with ASD and autistic traits had higher average SMFQ depressive symptom scores than the general population at age 10 years (eg, for social communication 5.55 [95% CI, 5.16-5.95] vs 3.73 [95% CI, 3.61-3.85], for ASD 7.31 [95% CI, 6.22-8.40] vs 3.94 [95% CI, 3.83-4.05], remaining elevated in an upward trajectory until age 18 years (eg, for social communication 7.65 [95% CI, 6.92-8.37] vs 6.50 [95% CI, 6.29-6.71], for ASD 7.66 [95% CI, 5.96-9.35] vs 6.62 [95% CI, 6.43-6.81]). Social communication impairments were associated with depression at age 18 years (adjusted relative risk, 1.68; 95% CI, 1.05-2.70), and bullying explained a substantial proportion of this risk. There was no evidence of confounding by the autism polygenic risk score. Analysis in larger samples using multiple imputation led to similar but more precise results.
Conclusions and Relevance: Children with ASD and ASD traits have higher depressive symptom scores than the general population by age 10 years, which persist to age 18 years, particularly in the context of bullying. Social communication impairments are an important autistic trait in relation to depression. Bullying, as an environmental intermediary, could be a target for interventions.

PMID: 29898212 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

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