Johnson agreed that these latest findings underscore the many issues children with autism spectrum disorders face. "These are vulnerable children," she said.
Johnson said she already talks with parents about the increased risks of depression and anxiety associated with autism. As for formal screening for suicidal behavior, that might be done in some cases, she said. But there's no universal guideline on screening.
Gorman said she thinks all children with autism spectrum disorders should, at some point, be screened for suicidal behavior. It would make sense, she said, to wait until children are older, but there are no set-in-stone rules for how or when to screen.
And if your child is showing potential warning signs? Gorman said therapy would depend on each child's situation, including how severe the autism is and what co-existing problems -- such as depression -- there might be.
Johnson said that if parents are worried about changes in their child's behavior, they should bring it up to their doctor. But she also stressed that mood or behavior shifts could have any number of causes. "My advice to parents is, don't panic," she said.
Learn more about autism spectrum disorders from Autism Speaks.
SOURCES: Angela Gorman, Ph.D., assistant professor, child psychiatry, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey; Cynthia Johnson, Ph.D., director, Autism Center, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh; January 2013 Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders
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