Accessibility Tools

  • Content scaling 100%
  • Font size 100%
  • Line height 100%
  • Letter spacing 100%

Autism and mental health

  • Share

Quick facts

Quick facts

  • Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition, with characteristics first emerging in early childhood. 

  • Autistic people experience a range of differences in the areas of social behaviour and communication, interests and behaviours, and often experience co-occurring mental health conditions. 

  • Autistic people can benefit from working with mental health professionals who understand autism, are strengths-based, and supportive. 

An important note: at SANE, we have chosen to use identity-first language in this factsheet, which is preferred by many people in the autistic community1. However, we recognise that some people prefer person-first language like ‘person with autism’, or the term ‘autism spectrum disorder’, and we respect individual choices and preferences. 

  • What is autism? 

    Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition. The official diagnostic term is ‘autism spectrum disorder’. Some people also use the term ‘Asperger’s syndrome’, which was a previous term related to autism, though this is no longer given as a diagnosis in Australia.  

    Autism is form of neurodivergence, meaning that autistic people think, learn, experience, and interact with the world around them in a different way to other people. These days, more people are understanding and embracing autism, and celebrating the strengths of autistic people.  

  • Characteristics of autism

    As a neurodevelopmental condition, signs of autism first appear in early childhood. Autism involves the following2​: 

    • Challenges with social communication and interaction. This can include challenges with conversations, non-verbal communications and body language, and difficulties in relationships. 
    • Restricted and repetitive behaviours, interests or activities. For example, repetitive motor movements or speech; a strong preference for sameness and routine; intense or focused interests; or sensitivity to sensory stimulation like sound or temperature. 
  • Causes of autism

    It’s unclear what causes autism. There is no single cause, and lots of different factors can contribute. It’s known to run in families and there is a strong genetic basis3​.  

  • How common is autism?

    It’s estimated that around 0.7 per cent of Australians are autistic, and children and young people are most likely to be diagnosed4​. People are getting better at recognising autism, particularly in adults who might have had their symptoms missed in childhood. 

    Autism occurs on a spectrum and can be described as a constellation of traits. This means that each autistic person is different. Some autistic people experience significant challenges in their day-to-day life, and may identify as having a disability, whereas others do not.  

    Many autistic people also experience co-occurring mental health issues. These are commonly due to a range of reasons, including overlap in symptoms, possible shared life experiences and genetic factors, and the impact of stressful or traumatic events like bullying.  

    Common co-occurring mental health and developmental conditions include5

    • ADHD 
    • Depression 
    • Anxiety disorders 
    • OCD 
    • Bipolar disorder 

    Some autistic people may also experience other conditions like intellectual disability, speech and language challenges, sleep problems, and physical health problems. 

  • Support for autism and mental health 

    Many autistic people can benefit from accessing mental health support.  But there can be barriers to getting the right help – for example, some mental health professionals may not have a good understanding of autism, or have the right training to provide support.  

    Good mental health support for autistic people includes6​: 

    • Mental health professionals who are knowledgeable about autism, and understand the strength and resilience of autistic people. 
    • Accessible, high quality support services that are appropriate for people who might have communication challenges or sensory sensitivities. 
    • Good coordination and collaboration between different teams and support providers. 

    People experiencing both autism and mental health issues can also benefit from: 

    • building a relationship with a supportive GP, and other mental health professionals 
    • developing a support network of trusted friends or family members 
    • looking after their physical health by getting enough exercise and sleep  
    • connecting with others with similar experiences, such as through peer support 
    • Accessing other types of support, such as community and employment support, if needed. 

    Autistic people have a range of strengths and have the right to access connection and mental health support that meets their needs.  

    To connect with others who get it, visit our online Forums. They’re safe, anonymous and available 24/7.  


  • Resources and support 

  • References

    1. Amaze. Talking about autism: guidelines for respectful and accurate reporting on autism and autistic people [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from: 

    ​2. American Psychiatric Organization. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5). In: 5th ed. American Psychiatric Association; 2013.  

    ​3. Warrier V, Chee V, Smith P, Chakrabarti B, Baron-Cohen S. A comprehensive meta-analysis of common genetic variants in autism spectrum conditions. Mol Autism [Internet]. 2015;6(1):49. Available from: 

    ​4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Autism in Australia [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from: 

    ​5. Lai MC, Kassee C, Besney R, Bonato S, Hull L, Mandy W, et al. Prevalence of co-occurring mental health diagnoses in the autism population: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Psychiatry [Internet]. 2019;6(10):819–29. Available from: 

    ​6. Amaze. Autism and mental health [Internet]. [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from: 

Last updated: 12 July 2024

Latest Discussions on the Forum

If you sometimes struggle to say it out loud, or tell someone in person, you can reach out for support here: SANE’s professionally moderated forums are a safe and anonymous community of support that you can access any time of day or night, and on any device.

Latest discussions on the forums

Lived Experience

For anyone living with a complex mental health issue

Connect with others
Posts are loading...


    For anyone who cares about or for someone living with a mental health issue

    Connect with others
    Posts are loading...

      Ways we can support you

      Choose from a range of support services, including counselling, peer support, online groups and events, 24/7 community forums, and online information and resources.

      Icon - Shapes representing 3 people

      Online Forums Community

      Available 24/7. SANE’s online community forums provide a safe, non-judgmental space to share your experiences, seek advice and surround yourself with support.

      Icon - shape of a person wearing headphones with a wrap around microphone

      Talk to a Mental Health Professional

      Available Monday to Friday, 10am - 8pm (AEST/AEDT). SANE’s team of trained staff and volunteers provide free support, information, and resources. Call 1800 187 263. Free Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) available on 131 450.

      Icon - Hands holding a heart

      Additional guidance and support

      Available Monday to Friday, 10am to 8pm (AEST/AEDT). Work with a dedicated support team to identify your goals and tailor a support plan that's right for you. Choose from a range of supports, incl.  multi-session counselling and peer support.

      Icon - Two chat bubble shapes

      Weekly Online Discussion Groups

      Every Thursday at 7pm (AEST/AEDT). Weekly online discussions, guided by SANE peer support workers and supported by counsellors. New topics each week.

      Icon - Calendar

      Monthly Live Educational Events

      Last Tuesday of every month, at 5:30pm (AEST/AEDT). Topic Tuesday is a live Q&A discussion. Each month a different topic is facilitated by a subject matter expert, a community manager or moderator, and supported by a peer support worker.

      Icon - Document with information symbol

      Information and Resources

      Available 24/7. Access information you can trust on complex mental health issues. SANE factsheets and guides are easy to read and can help you understand what’s happening and what strategies can be helpful.

      Icon - Hand holding hand

      Guidance for supporting someone at risk of suicide

      Available 24/7. A resource that provides information and advice about supporting someone who has attempted, or is at risk of attempting, suicide.

      Get Creative with SANE

      The arts have the power to move, to heal and to help us understand ourselves and each other. SANE Create programs provide an outlet to engage with creative activities.

      Icon - Person shape in front of white board

      Peer Guide training and mentoring

      Receive guidance and support to develop the skills to use your personal mental health experiences as a peer support worker, building confidence and readiness for employment or further education.

      Have questions? Click here to read our FAQs or email us at

      Man with a short beard leaning aginst a wall with his arms folded

      Together we can change lives

      Help us provide free essential mental health support and create brighter futures for people with complex mental health issues. Make a tax deductible donation today.


      Stay in touch

      Never miss an important update from SANE.

      Please let us know your first name.
      Please let us know your last name.
      Please let us know your email address.

      Please select at least one newsletter