Co-occurring Disorders With Autism in Adults

Approximately 2.21% (or nearly 5.5 million) of adults in the U.S. face autism spectrum disorder (ASD) each year. ASD affects every individual differently; no two autism experiences are alike. In many cases, autism doesn’t come alone, although it is a standalone diagnosis.

What Is Autism?

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) categorizes autism as a developmental disorder where symptoms appear within the first two years of life. It has, however, been diagnosed in adults after being missed during childhood. Autism is defined by the NIMH as “a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave.” It is a spectrum disorder due to the wide variation in severity and type of symptoms that people experience.

Being considered a spectrum disorder, there are no recognized individual types of autism. In the past, conditions like Asperger’s Syndrome were recognized as individual diagnoses but are now used only as specifiers of autism.

Regardless of gender, race, or other background distinctions, autism can affect anyone. The way autism affects individuals varies greatly from case to case. In addition to varying symptoms of autism, most cases come with co-occurring conditions.

Conditions Commonly Associated With Autism

Untreated autism can greatly disrupt an individual’s life and cause the disorder to worsen over time. Not only are the symptoms of autism challenging, but many individuals don’t just face autism. They undergo the challenges of other conditions that often co-occur with the disorder. Below are just some of the many challenging mental health concerns that can come along with autism.


Anxiety affects nearly one in five American adults annually. It is one of the leading mental health disorders in the world. Up to 84% of individuals with autism can suffer from anxiety. There are multiple forms of this condition and the symptoms vary from case to case. Disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), separation anxiety, social anxiety, phobias and fears, and obsessive-compulsive disorder have been diagnosed simultaneously with autism.


Depression is another of the most common mental health disorders worldwide. Not only does it affect a vast number of the world, but approximately 26% of adults with autism also endure depression. This can be due to a variety of reasons. Some of these include social isolation, social comparison, and dysregulated emotions, all of which are common among people with autism.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD affects up to 70% of individuals with autism. Of the many disorders that co-occur with autism, ADHD is known to be one of the most common. This is because ADHD and ASD are both neurodevelopmental disorders. Both affect brain development, causing disturbance to the central nervous system. This system is responsible for movement, language, and memory, as well as social and focusing skills. As both disorders come from changes in the same brain areas, it is no wonder that both often appear together.


Though it occurs in fewer people in the general population than most other disorders, schizophrenia affects a vast range of people with autism. Of those with schizophrenia, anywhere from 3.4-52% also have ASD, based on a 2018 study.

Both conditions are neurodevelopmental disorders that share multiple interpersonal and cognitive deficits. These include disturbances in abstract reasoning and the more complex aspects of memory and language.

Bipolar Disorder

Up to 4.4% of U.S. adults encounter bipolar disorder at some point in their lives. It has a prevalence of an estimated 5-8% in autistic cases. The primary difference between autism and bipolar disorder is that the former is a neurodevelopmental disorder usually present from childhood. Bipolar disorder, however, is often diagnosed between late adolescence and early adulthood.

Treating Co-Occurring Disorders of Autism

The above are just some of the many recognized conditions that can exist with autism. Despite the high prevalence of co-occurring disorders with ASD, all are treatable and help is available. Proper diagnosis is the first step in the treatment of any mental health condition. When that has been established, planning a proper treatment path can begin. Therapy or medication, and in many cases both, are the most common forms of treatment for any mental disorder.


Medication is often used in the treatment of depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. It can also be prescribed for anxiety and is the primary treatment used for ADHD. Generally, the need for medication is determined by severity levels and personal circumstances. Every person is unique and has their own history with mental health. Choosing medication is a personal choice and is prescribed on a case-by-case basis.


Therapy is a primary form of treatment for co-occurring disorders with autism. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is generally the most fruitful and effective form of therapy for these disorders. Because CBT focuses on the way a person thinks in a problem-solving style, many people with different mental health disorders can benefit from it. Individuals learn tools to identify issues and gradually retrain their thought processes for more positivity and productivity.

No matter what one’s co-occurring disorder may be, help is out there. A person with autism can shine brighter than the sun when they’re not being held back by obstacles like unmanaged mental illness symptoms. Any obstacle can be overcome with the right guidance.

At Alter Behavioral Health, we believe that autism gives you a unique opportunity to shine in ways no one else can. With proper guidance and care, you can harness the invaluable skills and abilities gifted to you by your autism. Co-occurring disorders like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder can hold you back from being the best version of yourself. We can help you overcome these obstacles so that you can show the world just how amazing you are. Through various therapeutic interventions, we can help you manage the root causes of mental and behavioral disruptions so you can thrive. You don’t have to face the challenges of your co-occurring disorder alone. Call us today at (866) 691-4386.