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Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder May Also Have ADHD

ADHD symptoms are common in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Autism is a brain disorder in which communication and interaction with others are difficult. Children with Autism face significant challenges. The symptoms may range from total lack of communication with others to difficulty in understanding others' feelings. In the new DSM-5 manual of the American Psychiatric Association there is no longer a separate diagnosis category for Asperger's Syndrome and other sub parts of autism but rather there is now one diagnosis definition for autism. In addition, the DSM-5 also reduces social related elements of autism into social communication impairment and repetitive/restricted behaviors. Because of the range of symptoms, this condition is now called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The symptoms of ASD include:

  • A delay in motor skills
  • A lack of skill in interacting with others
  • Little understanding of the abstract uses of language, such as humor or give-and-take in a conversation
  • Obsessive interest in specific items or information
  • Strong reactions to textures, smells, sounds, sights, or other stimuli that others might not even notice, such as a flickering light

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition in which a person has trouble paying attention and focusing on tasks, tends to act without thinking, and has trouble sitting still. It may begin in early childhood and can continue into adulthood. Without treatment, ADHD can cause problems at home, school, work, and with relationships. In the past, ADHD was called attention deficit disorder (ADD).

The prior fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) stated that ASD and ADHD cannot be co-diagnosed. In the new DSM-5, it is now recognized that one can have both disorders— the recent change to the DSM-5 to remove the prohibition of a dual diagnosis of autism and ADHD is an important step forward. Bearing these changes in mind, below are the main points of a recently reported study that speaks to the overlap of ASD and ADHD:

• As cited on Medscape, Rebecca Landa, PhD, and Patricia Rao, PhD, Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore, Maryland, found in a study that 29% of children between 4 and 8 years of age with ASD were rated by their parents as having clinically significant symptoms of ADHD.

• Moreover, children with comorbid ASD and ADHD in this study had lower cognitive functioning, more severe social impairment, and greater delays in adaptive functioning than children with ASD only. Therefore, the presence of ADHD in children with ASD complicates children's learning.

• The study also found that a significantly higher percentage of children with comorbid ASD + ADHD were classified as having significant cognitive delays (low functioning autism) than children with ASD only (61% vs 25%), the authors write.

• Parents also rated children with both disorders as being significantly more likely to have stereotypic and repetitive behaviors than children with ASD alone.

The above mentioned study was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health Source: Autism. Published online June 5, 2013 and Medscape Medical News June 11, 2013. Web MD is also a source for the information shared above.

Note: It is important to bear in mind that this is just one study and that the children examined were ages four to eight. Further research is clearly needed on the co-morbidity of Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD. I have found in twenty-two years of clinical practice as a child psychologist, however, that there certainly seems to be a strong correlation of ADHD symptoms in children on the Autism spectrum.

Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist, personal and executive coach, and motivational coach in the greater Philadelphia area. He has been on the Today Show, Radio, and has written four popular books, including 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child and 10 Days to a Less Distracted Child. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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