There are a number of additional conditions that may afflict people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), otherwise known as autism. Some of these conditions are listed below, with an explanation of the condition itself, as well as how it relates to an ASD diagnosis.
ADHD (Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder)
ASD and ADHD have similar symptoms, including social difficulties, having trouble settling down, limited by the ability to focus only on things that interest them, and impulsivity. Children with both of these disorders have challenges with executive function — how your brain is able to process planning, self-control, short-term memory and decision-making. Both conditions also share genetic risks. Young children with both disorders can experience more severe autism symptoms, including tantrums, trouble making friends and more challenges at school, researchers say. About 11% of US children aged 4–17 have been diagnosed with ADHD, while about 1.5% of children have a diagnosis of ASD. Half of the young people with ASD also have ADHD, Geraldine Dawson, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke, says in MD Magazine.
Autism and dyslexia are both linked to the way the brain processes information, therefore, it is not uncommon for people on the spectrum to also have a diagnosis of dyslexia. Dyslexia symptoms features difficulties with reading, writing and spelling as well as interpreting visuals, such as maps and graphs, as well as sequences and patterns.
Between 44 and 86 percent of children with autism have a serious sleep issues, from difficulty falling asleep and waking up repeatedly in the night, to prolonged nighttime awakenings or waking very early in the morning. This has been most studied in children with ASD, with research suggesting that chronic sleep problems affect as many as four out of five. Many people with ASD have other conditions which require medications to control their symptoms. Such conditions may include gastrointestinal problems, ADHD, or anxiety, and each of those is known to disrupt sleep. Cramps from constipation, for instance, may keep a person with autism up at night. People with these other conditions may also take medications that affect sleep. For example, many people with ADHD take stimulant medications, which can cause insomnia.
The most common medical condition occurring in individuals with autism spectrum disorders is seizure disorder or epilepsy, which occurs in 11-39% of individuals with ASD. Epilepsy is a brain disorder marked by recurring seizures, or convulsions. Epilepsy is more common among individuals with autism than among the general population. Seizures are more common in individuals with lower verbal abilities. Diagnosing and treating epilepsy is critically important. People with autism and untreated epilepsy are at greater risk for overall poor health, and in some cases, even premature death. Compared to those without seizures, children with ASD and seizures are also more likely to have sleep difficulties and behavior problems.
Fragile X syndrome
While ASD is a behavioral diagnosis, FXS a medical, or genetic diagnosis. When associated with FXS, ASD is caused by the mutation in the Fragile X gene. About 10% of children with ASD identified as having another genetic and chromosomal disorder, such as Fragile X syndrome. Given the possibility of a link, it is recommended that all children with ASD, both male and female, be referred for genetic evaluation and testing for FXS and any other genetic cause of ASD.
It is common for autistic people to have difficulties with motor skills and coordination. If their issues are more extreme, they may be diagnosed with dyspraxia, which is thought to be caused by the way that the brain processes information. If messages are not properly transmitted it can affect a person’s ability to understand what to do and how to do it. It can also affect perception, language, and thought. Dyspraxia can run in families. As with autism, those with dyspraxia may have varying sensitivities to certain sensory stimuli.
Issues including chronic constipation – typically defined as constipation lasting two weeks or more – can be caused by a restricted diet that may not provide sufficient fiber. Constipation may be a side effect of taking certain medications related to treating ASD, or sensory or behavioral issues that interfere with regular toileting. Other causes for constipation may be anatomic, neurological, or metabolic problems or abnormal gut motility (a sluggish intestinal tract). Chronic diarrhea can be another potential issue, caused by lactose intolerance, food allergies, or celiac disease – all typically treated with dietary restrictions. Other times, medications or (rarely) surgery are warranted.
Anxiety is a very common problem for those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Anxiety disorders can include excessive worry, social phobia, separation anxiety, OCD, and extreme fears – for instance, of loud noises or spiders. For people with autism, it is even more difficult to control anxiety responses once they are triggered – even if they do not suffer from a specific anxiety disorder. According to the Autism Speaks website, “Research also suggests that adolescents with autism may be particularly prone to anxiety disorders, while the rate among younger children on the spectrum may not differ from that of their same-age peers. Some studies likewise suggest that high-functioning individuals on the spectrum experience higher rates of anxiety disorders.”
Autism Spectrum Australia. (2018). Dyslexia. Retrieved from https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/content/dyslexia on April 5, 2018.
Autism Speaks. (2018). Autism’s Associated Medical Conditions. Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/treatment/treatment-associated-medical-conditions on April 5, 2018.
Spectrum News. (2018). Attention deficit disorder, autism share cognitive problems. https://spectrumnews.org/news/attention-deficit-disorder-autism-share-cognitive-problems/ on April 6, 2018.
National Fragile X Foundation. (2018). Retrieved from https://fragilex.org/learn/#1496329862836-a16f240b-55c4 on April 3, 2018.
Autism Speaks. (2018). Recognizing and Treating Epilepsy in Individuals with Autism. Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/treatment/treatment-associated-medical-conditions/epilepsy on April 4, 2018.
The National Autistic Society (UK). (2018). Retrieved from http://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/related-conditions.aspx on April 11, 2018.
MD Magazine. (2018) Study Explores Why Children With ADHD, ASD Receive Late Autism Diagnosis. Retrieved from http://www.mdmag.com/medical-news/study-explores-why-children-with-adhd-asd-receive-late-autism-diagnosis on April 3, 2018.