Related Disorders Occuring in People with Autism

Dr. Dana Gadaire discusses related medical conditions often found in people diagnosed with autism. People with autism are at significant risk of co-occuring additional conditions. Distinguishing between ASDs and other diagnoses can be challenging because the traits of ASDs often overlap with symptoms of other disorders and the characteristics of ASDs make traditional diagnostic procedures difficult. 

It is a fact that a number of medical and behavioral issues occur in conjunction with autism spectrum disorder. When conditions occur in conjunction with another disorder, they are referred to as "co-morbid." 

In the case of autism, common co-morbid conditions include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, as well as gastrointestinal, or GI problems, sleep disturbances and epilepsy.

In addition, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, reports that children with autism or other developmental disorders have higher than expected rates of an even broader range of medical conditions including skin allergies, food allergies and severe headaches.  Additionally, genetic conditions such as fragile X and other chromosomal abnormalities may sometimes accompany autism.

Distinguishing between autism and other conditions can be challenging because the traits of autism often overlap with symptoms of other disorders and the characteristics of autism can make traditional diagnostic procedures difficult. This is especially true with comorbid disorders that affect behavior and communication.

Parents and caregivers should familiarize themselves with these comorbid disorders to begin early intervention should a disorder emerge at some point in a child's development.

Gastrointestinal, or GI disorders, are among the most common medical conditions associated with autism. These issues range from chronic constipation or diarrhea to inflammatory bowel conditions.

Many persons affected by autism have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep through the night. This has been most studied in children with autism, with research suggesting that chronic sleep problems affect as many as four out of five.

Without question, anxiety is a real and serious problem for many people with autism. Research suggests that at least 30 percent of those affected by autism also have an anxiety disorder. In addition, individuals with autism can have difficulties controlling anxiety responses once they are triggered - even if they do not suffer from a specific anxiety disorder.

Parents and researchers have long known that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, often accompanies autism. Studies have long shown that ADHD medications improve quality of life for many people. However, we need more research on how well these medications work for persons who are also affected by autism.

A multi-disciplinary evaluation is important for diagnosing autism and other related disorders that may accompany autism. This includes speaking with a pediatrician and a licensed psychologist. Please use the resources in this tool kit and watch the FAQ video to learn more.

You should use independent judgment and request references when considering any resource associated with diagnosis or treatment of autism or its associated medical conditions. The information in this Autism Advisor tool kit is solely for educational purposes, not medical advice.