Study: Potential Link Between Autism and ADHD

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Results of a new study performed at the Kennedy Krieger Institute indicate that almost 30 percent of young children with autism also show signs of ADHD. This rate is three times as high as the rate of ADHD is in the general population. Since previous studies have shown that autism may share genetic links with ADHD as well as bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia, this most recent bit of information is certainly helpful as we work toward learning to treat these conditions most effectively.

The most recent study differs from past research because most of the children involved were infants or toddlers, which is long before ADHD is usually diagnosed. Previous studies have focused on children from four to eight years old that were seeking care from clinics. By observing patients as infants and toddlers, the likelihood of bias is reduced.

Both autism and ADHD are developmental disorders, and they do share a few common traits in three central areas: communication, social interaction and behavior. Much like autistic kids, children with ADHD tend to have issues with social skills. They are also usually easily distracted at school and can have trouble following directions. Another common symptom between the two disorders is that both tend to cause impulse driven behaviors.

Children with both disorders tend to have more trouble fitting in at school and scored worse on cognitive and social functioning tests than other kids. They were also more likely to display severe autism mannerisms like repetitive behaviors. Since we are seeing increasing evidence that these two disorders may share a genetic link, a greater understanding of how they relate to each other may improve the quality of life for this group of children.

Since there are so many common factors, it is safe to assume that some parents think their child’s lack of focus at school or awkward social behavior is just a part of their autism. But despite their similarities, autism and ADHD are two different disorders that need to be treated as such by a psychiatrist who has experience in treating both. Both diagnoses benefit from behavioral treatment, and with proper diagnosis, your child will be much more likely to learn the skills needed to do well in school and with social activities.

Neither autism or ADHD can be “cured,” their symptoms can be managed by behavioral therapy and, if necessary, medication. The psychiatric treatment will be different for each child depending on the severity of the issues. Therapy sessions can help modify behavior, retrain the brain and teach coping skills. Dr. Lawrence Tucker specializes in treatment for both autism and ADHD. To set up a consultation for your child, click here.