A long-term study by UC Davis Health researchers sheds new light on the relationship between autism traits and mental health in middle childhood. The paper, published in the journal Autism, finds that changes in core autism characteristics are related to whether children develop additional mental health challenges during their elementary school years.
“Our findings suggest that different aspects of a child’s development may affect each other over time,” explained Einat Waizbard-Bartov, a doctoral researcher in developmental psychology at the UC Davis MIND Institute and the lead author on the paper. “Core autism traits and mental health challenges likely interact throughout development.”
A key finding was that a reduction in restrictive and repetitive behaviors during elementary school was linked to the emergence of mental health challenges, lending support to the idea that these behaviors may benefit autistic individuals. An increase in social-communication difficulties during this time was also linked to anxiety and other mental health challenges.