Could your child with ADHD also have an autism spectrum disorder — or was the first diagnosis incorrect? Here’s a way to get a comprehensive evaluation — and address your child’s ADD or ASD challenges head-on.
What’s the connection Between ADHD and Autism?
Roughly two-thirds of youngsters with attentive deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) have a minimum of one co-existing condition, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is among the conditions that commonly occur with ADHD. Some studies suggest that up to half of the kids with ASD even have ADHD.
If a child has been diagnosed with ADHD, but the diagnosis doesn’t seem to elucidate all of her struggles, you can wonder if she has ADHD and autism.
What’s the Difference Between ADHD and Autism?
ADHD is marked by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. “It is primarily a disorder of self-regulation and executive function – skills that act because the ‘brain manager’ in lifestyle,” says Mark Bertin, M.D., a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and therefore the author of The Family ADHD Solution.
Autism Spectrum Disorders — a continuum of conditions that has autism, Asperger’s syndrome (now outdated), and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) — are characterized by problems with social interactions, communication, and stereotyped (repetitive or ritualistic) behaviors.
“Children with autism don't intuitively understand some aspects of the social world. Their social development reflected live and communication abilities are delayed. they need specific symptoms, like limited imaginative play or lack of gesture language,” Bertin says.
April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day, and people wear the color blue to boost autism awareness for the developmental disorder.
Adult ADHD symptoms include:
• Disorganization and prioritizing problems.
• Poor time management skills.
• Trouble multitasking.
• Excessive activity or restlessness.
• Poor planning.
• Low frustration tolerance.
While the first components of ADHD and ASD are different, there's some overlap in symptoms. The trick to differentiating between the two disorders is to work out which executive function or developmental building block is broken or missing, thereby causing the symptom.
“Children with ADHD may struggle socially, but with ADHD alone, markers of early social development, like turn-taking play, gesture language, responding to names, and imaginative play, are usually intact. Traits like appropriate facial affect (the child’s countenance reflects his or her current emotional experience), humor, and empathy also are unaffected. Kids with ADHD might not be ready to stick with turn-taking play, but they know it. They'll not respond when called due to attention problems, but they're socially engaged and recognize their name and what it means,” says Mark Bertin, M.D., a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and the author of The Family ADHD Solution.
How Are ADHD and Autism Diagnosed?
In order to get an accurate, complete diagnosis, Bertin suggests working with knowledgeable who is conversant in both conditions. “A thorough evaluation aims to define a child’s strengths and weaknesses. Various test measures attempt to document ADHD symptoms, executive function, social and communication delays, anxiety, mood disorders, and a number of other symptoms,” says Bertin.
Tests alone aren't enough. “Evaluating both ADHD and autism remains a clinical skill supported going to know a toddler and seeking a comprehensive picture of his life within the world, a worldwide sense of a child’s social and conversational abilities, also as his play and daily living skills.”
For ADD, there's substantial evidence in favor of using medication. For autism alone, there are medications that will help with specific symptoms, like obsessive behavior, but not the underlying condition.
Treating ADD and ASD Effectively
Non-medical interventions also are used before children get a definitive diagnosis. “If a toddler has ongoing social challenges, for instance, many of the interventions are similar — like behavioral therapy to assist develop skills.”
Several other interventions, including therapy, physical therapy, educational interventions, and parent training, are often explored.
When Your Child Has Both ADHD and Autism
Dr. William Dodson, of the Dodson ADHD Center, in Greenwood Village, Colorado, maybe a psychiatrist who focuses on both ADHD and Asperger’s. When a patient has both, Dodson takes an immediate and honest approach: “The concepts I attempt to get across to patients and their parents is that ADHD and Asperger’s are two separate and distinct conditions that happen to be found together far more frequently than would be expected accidentally alone. The patients have won the negative genetic lottery and have two lifelong conditions which will affect every moment of their lives from here on out.”
“For people with coexisting ADHD and ASD, treating the ADHD may be a means to an end of treating the ASD,” says Dodson. “The world may be a classroom for people with ASD, and that they need to be able to observe and practice what they’ve learned.”
Toward that end, medication to treat the ADHD may be a must, Dodson says. “Few people with both ADHD and ASD succeed without medication to get rid of the extra obstacle of ADHD from their path.”