Research shows that 30-80% of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When these conditions co-occur, the symptoms of each are amplified. An early, accurate diagnosis increases the effectiveness of treatment and improves the outcomes for children with these disorders.
Identify Other Conditions
Nearly 75% of children with both ADHD and ASD have one or more additional mental health conditions. When a diagnosis of ADHD and ASD is in place, physicians, educators, and families can watch for emerging symptoms of other disorders, including:
- behavior disorders
- separation anxiety
- substance abuse
Address the Correct Issues
A dual diagnosis of ADHD (ADHDT-2) and ASD (CARS™2) can help to address specific issues in the correct ways. For example, both ASD and ADHD disrupt attention and impulsivity processes in various ways. When there is comorbidity, the disruption increases in all of the ways that the two disorders operate. If physicians are aware that both ASD and ADHD exist together, the correct types of medication and therapy can be used to address the problem.
Help in the Classroom
Students with a combination of ASD and ADHD generally experience significant struggles in the classroom due to increased risk for behavioral and cognitive problems. Increased anxiety that often accompanies these disorders also interferes with the learning process. An early diagnosis enables professionals to assist students with specific skills to improve symptoms and attitudes about school, including:
- behavioral modification procedures
- regular physical activity
- organizational skills
- clearly communicated rules
- immediate feedback
- positive reinforcement
Improve Social Skills
Students with co-occurring ASD and ADHD often experience more severe difficulties with socialization than students with just one of these conditions, particularly in the areas of empathizing, cooperating, communicating, and helping others. However, there are many types of therapy focusing on social skills that can be very helpful for students with ASD and ADHD. Several types of interventions are most effective when they are implemented at a young age, such as:
- Behaviour therapy
- occupational therapy
- speech therapy
- sensory integration
Prescribe Appropriate Medication
When there is a dual diagnosis of ADHD and ASD, it is more difficult for physicians to pinpoint the correct combination of treatments. Some healthcare organizations recommend medicating those with both disorders as if ADHD was the only disorder because ADHD symptoms usually respond to medications, while ASD symptoms do not. The guidelines state that doses should be increased incrementally with close monitoring for the existence of any side effects. When there is an early, accurate diagnosis, doctors have more time to adjust medications to find the most effective combination for the specific individual.
Diagnosis of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is not a quick process and often involves multiple screenings and extensive observation periods. However, accurate diagnoses that are completed early enable doctors to prescribe appropriate treatment while families and educational institutions work with the child to create an individualized life plan. WPS can help you to learn more about diagnosing these co-occurring neurodevelopmental conditions in order to provide positive long-term outcomes for affected children.