When you think of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as portrayed in the media, you might suppose that these two disorders are on opposite ends of the behavioral spectrum. Kids with autism are shown as being very withdrawn, preferring to sit in a corner and play with the same object for hours on end. Children with ADHD are stereotyped as being social butterflies, unable to sit still and concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. However, new research in child psychiatry from the Kennedy Krieger Institute tells a very different story.
One in Three ASD Kids Have ADHD
Almost one third of children with autism also have problematic ADHD symptoms. This data was collected by observing the development of autistic infants and toddlers over time. In the past, research into the “co-occurrence” of these disorders focused on pediatric patients brought in for treatment. That approach meant only the more severe cases were usually detected. By following children from very early childhood up into their school years, researchers have been able to discover the true amount of overlap between ASD and ADHD.
Sadly, ADHD does nothing to counterbalance the effects of autism. In fact, it makes things much more challenging for children who experience symptoms of both disorders. Young kids starting school who have both ASD and ADHD are significantly more impaired in terms of cognitive functioning and social skills than those with autism alone. They tend to cope poorly in everyday situations and display more pronounced autistic behaviors.
A New Dual Diagnosis
Until recently, psychiatrists were taught that ASD and ADHD can’t both occur in the same child. The conditions were viewed as being too different. Recently, the DSM-5 (the publication that describes mental health problems) was updated to remove this misinformation. In fact, the problem is quite common. It’s just another indication that the field of child psychiatry is always evolving. If your child has been diagnosed with autism, it is very important to ensure specialist is keeping up with the latest research. Otherwise, your child may not be receiving the most effective interventions and therapies.