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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – April was Autism Acceptance month and May is Mental Health Awareness month. The two sometimes go hand-in-hand as some people with Autism often struggle with mental health as well.

78% of children with Autism also have at least one mental health condition and nearly half have two or more, as reported by the Organization for Autism Research. OAR also reports that 14.4% of people with Autism will experience depression at some point of their life.

When it came to the pandemic, local doctors told News 19 they saw the number of patients with Autism they see who struggle with mental health increase. “More and more people are reaching out and we are seeing that there was definitely a mental health area affecting kids and families,” Silver Lining’s Dr. Megan Crisler explained. “It’s been far-reaching and the mental health need as a result of COVID, it’s been huge.”

Dr. Crisler also told News 19 that her patients who are impacted by mental health often experience it as they transition into their adult years.

“Processing emotions for people with Autism can be a little difficult, a little tricky, that’s a very abstract issue,” Dr. Crisler told News 19. “So, we will see more problems with anxiety and depression into young adulthood because they’re just being stressed all the more and they don’t know how to handle that.”

Dr. Crisler adds that people with Autism typically like routine, which can also impact their mental health. “A lot of individuals with Autism like predictability; they like routine and when that gets stripped away we do see anxiety increase, we see depression increase.”

So, Dr. Crisler and organizations throughout the community work to help both people with Autism and people who struggle with mental health through group activities and building communication skills.

“The worst thing you can do is nothing so whether that be volunteering or getting exposed to a group and getting experience with social skills,” David Stidger told News 19.

Stidger started a business ten years ago that brought people with Autism together in group settings. He told News 19 that they all start as strangers but become friends. They’ll get together and do everything from going out for dinner to hiking. These activities not only build these relationships but help ensure people with Autism do not feel alone.

“They are individuals and people and they have interests, and goals and they want to be independent just like anyone else does,” Stidger shared.