Common Co-diagnoses Occurring with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Mar 31, 2022
From awareness to acceptance, April is dedicated to promoting the understanding of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and the people who are diagnosed with them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 1 in 44 children has been identified with ASD.
What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, meaning it affects how the brain functions. People with autism often have differences in how they communicate and interact socially. Repetitive behavior or specific areas of interest also are common. Autism affects people in different ways. It’s called a “spectrum” because some people require little support in their day-to-day lives, while others have many symptoms and require a lot of support.
Who Can Have ASD?
ASD is not something you catch, like a cold. It does not go away, but symptoms can change over time. You may be more likely to have autism if other members of your family also have autism. It is also more common in males. When ASD is diagnosed in young children, early intervention and treatments can help build communication and daily living skills. Diagnosis involves comprehensive testing, evaluation and observation by a team including doctors and psychologists.
Other Conditions That Can Appear With ASD
People who have autism may have additional health diagnoses (co-occurring conditions). Some of the more common conditions include:
Allergies – Eczema or skin allergies, as well as food allergies. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have concerns about allergies.
Anxiety – Kids who have anxiety might show symptoms of nervousness, worry, or fear. Anxiety can be treated through therapy or medication.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – Symptoms of ADHD can include impulsiveness, hyperactivity, inattention or problems focusing on tasks or in school. Many people learn to manage ADHD through behavioral techniques and/or medication.
Depression – Common symptoms of depression can include sadness, loss of motivation, and changes in sleep and appetite. Depression can be treated through therapy and medication.
Developmental delays – Developmental delays can be very different among people. Some people may have learning delays, while others may have speech delays (difficulty speaking or understanding language), fine motor delays (difficulty grasping items or fastening clothing, or difficulty writing) or gross motor delays (balance problems, clumsiness, or delays in walking). Speech, occupational and physical therapy, respectively, can help develop these skills.
Eating or feeding challenges – Some people with autism may avoid certain types of foods due to sensory sensitivity. Others may eat things that aren’t actually food (known as pica). Some may simply be picky eaters. Treatment options will vary.
Gastrointestinal symptoms – Some common stomach symptoms include chronic constipation, diarrhea, stomach bloating or abdominal pain. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have concerns.
Intellectual disabilities – Intellectual or learning disabilities may be present in individuals with autism. Early intervention and screening can help develop supports in school.
Sleep disruption/atypical wake schedules – Many children with ASD begin having sleep issues at an early age, such as difficulties falling asleep, maintaining sleep and decreased need for sleep. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have concerns.
Not every person diagnosed with ASD will have an additional diagnosis. If you are concerned about your child’s development or want to learn more about ASD, talk with your child’s pediatrician.
Tyanna Snider, PsyD, is a psychologist in the Pediatric Psychology Program at Nationwide Children's Hospital and clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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