Mental health in autistic adults: a rapid review of prevalence of psychiatric disorders and umbrella review of the effectiveness of interventions within a neurodiversity informed perspective
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Curnow, E., Rutherford, M., Maciver, D., Johnston, L., Prior, S., Boilson, M., Shah, P., Jenkins, N. and Meff, T. (2023) ‘Mental health in autistic adults: A rapid review of prevalence of psychiatric disorders and umbrella review of the effectiveness of interventions within a neurodiversity informed perspective’, PLOS ONE. Edited by W. Yue, 18(7), p. e0288275. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0288275.
Background Autistic adults have high risk of mental ill-health and some available interventions have been associated with increased psychiatric diagnoses. Understanding prevalence of psychiatric diagnoses is important to inform the development of individualised treatment and support for autistic adults which have been identified as a research priority by the autistic community. Interventions require to be evaluated both in terms of effectiveness and regarding their acceptability to the autistic community. Objective This rapid review identified the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in autistic adults, then systematic reviews of interventions aimed at supporting autistic adults were examined. A rapid review of prevalence studies was completed concurrently with an umbrella review of interventions. Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) guidelines were followed, including protocol registration (PROSPERO#CRD42021283570). Data sources MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, and Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Study eligibility criteria English language; published 2011–2022; primary studies describing prevalence of psychiatric conditions in autistic adults; or systematic reviews evaluating interventions for autistic adults. Appraisal and synthesis Bias was assessed using the Prevalence Critical Appraisal Instrument and AMSTAR2. Prevalence was grouped according to psychiatric diagnosis. Interventions were grouped into pharmacological, employment, psychological or mixed therapies. Strength of evidence for interventions was assessed using GRADE (Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation). Autistic researchers within the team supported interpretation. Results Twenty prevalence studies were identified. Many included small sample sizes or failed to compare their sample group with the general population reducing validity. Prevalence of psychiatric diagnoses was variable with prevalence of any psychiatric diagnosis ranging from 15.4% to 79%. Heterogeneity was associated with age, diagnosis method, sampling methods, and country. Thirty-two systematic reviews of interventions were identified. Four reviews were high quality, four were moderate, five were low and nineteen critically low, indicating bias. Following synthesis, no intervention was rated as ‘evidence based.’ Acceptability of interventions to autistic adults and priorities of autistic adults were often not considered. Conclusions There is some understanding of the scope of mental ill-health in autism, but interventions are not tailored to the needs of autistic adults, not evidence based, and may focus on promoting neurotypical behaviours rather than the priorities of autistic people.