According to new research, autistic people are more likely to experience melancholy and anxiety during pregnancy.
The findings of the study, headed by experts from the University of Cambridge, and published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, have important implications for aiding pregnant people with autism. In the study, 524 non-autistic persons and 417 autistic people answered an online survey about their pregnancy experiences, which was led by experts at the Autism Research Centre. Anyone who was pregnant or had previously given birth at the time of answering was eligible to participate.
The study revealed that autistic parents were around three times more likely than non-autistic parents to report having experienced prenatal depression (9 per cent of non-autistic parents and 24 per cent of autistic parents) and anxiety (14 per cent of non-autistic parents and 48 per cent of autistic parents).
Autistic respondents also experienced lower satisfaction with pregnancy healthcare. Autistic respondents were less likely to trust professionals, feel that professionals took their questions and concerns seriously, feel that professionals treated them respectfully, and be satisfied with how information was presented to them in appointments. Furthermore, autistic respondents were more likely to experience sensory issues during pregnancy and more likely to feel overwhelmed by the sensory environment of prenatal appointments.
Dr Sarah Hampton, lead researcher on the study, said: “This study suggests that autistic people are more vulnerable to mental health difficulties during pregnancy. It is imperative that effective mental health screening and support is available for autistic people during pregnancy.”
Dr Rosie Holt, a member of the research team, added: “The results also suggest that autistic people may benefit from accommodations to prenatal healthcare. These may include adjustments to the sensory environment of healthcare settings, as well as adjustments to how information is communicated during prenatal appointments.”
Dr Carrie Allison, Deputy Director of the Autism Research Centre and a member of the team, said: “We are grateful to members of the autistic community for providing feedback when we designed this research. It is vital that autistic people with lived experience help shape the research we do, and we keep their priorities as a clear focus.”
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