Attention Disorders and Autism

July 21, 2015

A preschool age child is having difficulty sitting during circle time, making eye contact and having trouble doing work at a desk without flitting from toy to toy.  Parents and sometimes even teachers are quick to label this behavior as an attention disorder.  All of these symptoms described are in line with ADD or ADHD.   Even many doctors might naturally gravitate toward that type of  diagnosis. However, ADHD might not be the only answer. In recent studies ADHD and Autism have been shown to have similar characteristics and can easily be confused.  Let’s look at the behavioral symptoms of each disorder and see what recent studies are showing scientists about the link between autism and ADHD.

ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder also labelled ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder effects 9 percent of American children between the ages of 13 and 18 according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health. Autism effects 1 in 68 children with the number for this rising. These two behavior disorders share common symptoms and studies in Pediatrics reported that a large proportion of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) share traits similar to children with autism.  Among 242 children with ADHD more than 18% were found to have “autistic traits” though they did not meet a formal diagnosis for autism. These children had significant emotional, social, and cognitive impairments as well as challenges at home and in school that are common in children with autism.  A previous study of slightly older children found that 31 percent of children had the two disorders together.

The overlap of symptoms between ADHD and Autism have confused many families and specialists alike.  For many years doctors have been hesitant to diagnose one child with both ADHD and autism. Therefore, getting a diagnosis from a child behavior specialist might be a good step in beginning to understand the course of treatment needed for your child.  The managing of symptoms either through behavioral therapy, medical therapy or a combination of both can help with both autism and ADHD.

Further Sources on Autism and ADHD

Double Diagnosis: When Your Child Has ADHD and Autism in Everyday Health

ADHD, Anxiety and Autism in the Interactive Autism Nettwork