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Effects on health of learning disabilities and autism

A study explored the links between learning disability and autism on mental health and poorer general health

A study of data from the national census explored the links between learning disability and autism on mental health and poorer general health

Picture shows a model depicting a depressed teenage boy sitting by a window. Learning disability and autism significantly increase the chances of having a mental health condition and are also predictive of poorer general health, a study shows.
Picture: iStock

A cross-sectional study examined data from the national census to explore links between learning disability and autism on mental health and poor general health.

In addition to questions on demography, the national census included items on long-term conditions including learning disability, autism, mental health conditions and the general health status of those within households.

The 2011 census returns included data from more than 58,000 people with a learning disability or autism.

Data analysis in the study, by the Scottish Learning Disabilities Observatory, found that in comparison with the general population – for children, young people and adults alike – learning disability, and even more so autism, significantly increased the odds of a person having a mental health condition.

It also showed that autism, and more so learning disability, were predictive of poorer general health.

Data modelling demonstrated that learning disability and autism have independent detrimental effects on health, even after the effect of known coexistences of learning disabilities and autism are accounted for. 

The detailed and empirical findings have implications for the planning and delivery of specialist and universal healthcare services to provide sufficient capacity and capability to meet the needs of people with learning disabilities, autism or both.


Reference

Kinnear D, Rydzewska E, Dunn K et al (2019) Relative influence of intellectual disabilities and autism on mental and general health in Scotland: a cross-sectional study of a whole country of 5.3 million children and adults. BMJ Open. 9, 8.


Dave Atkinson is an independent consultant nurseDave Atkinson is an independent consultant nurse

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