Depression in Children with Autism/Pervasive Developmental Disorders: A Case-Control Family History Study

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Limited information is available about the occurrence of depression in children with autism and other pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). Although depression has been deseribed in autistic children, questions about its validity have often been raised. One approach to address this issue is to investigate family histories of those autistic children diagnosed with clinical depression. Based on data available in nonautistic children, autistic children with depression would be expected to show an increased family history of depression. Since studies of this nature have not been attempted in autistic children, we compared the family history of 13 autistic/PDD children with depression (11 male; 2 female; M full-scale IQ 86.2, SD 24.2; M age 10.4 years, SD 2.2) with 10 autistic/PDD children without a history of current or previous depression (9 male; 1 female; M full-scale IQ 67, SD 12.9; M age 10.5 years, SD 1.6). Diagnosis of depression was based on the DSM-III-R criteria and confirmed independently by two psychiatrists. Ten (77%) of the depressed children had a positive family history of depression compared to 3 (30%) of the nondepressed group, t(21) = −2.4; p= .02. These findings lend support to the validity of depression as a distinct condition in some children with autism/PDD and suggest that, as in the normal population, autistic children who suffer from depression are more likely to have a family history of depression.

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