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Handling Coexisting Conditions

The autism spectrum disorder (ASD or autism) is highly diverse. Some children have the single diagnosis of autism, while others have a blend of overlapping conditions or may be diagnosed with more than one condition. Each child is very unique, and, even within the autism spectrum, each child will have strengths and weaknesses within those features or symptoms. Some may have stronger language skills than others on the spectrum while others may be better at transferring skills from one context to another. Just as there is variation in some of the features of autism, and strengths or weaknesses within those features, there is also marked variation in the extent of any coexisting conditions they may have.

Autism may exacerbate some coexisting conditions, which makes it hard to isolate other conditions.
Also, there are cases where there is an overlap between autism and some other conditions; for example, symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also often found in a child with autism. Each child will have their own different blend of symptoms and trying to distinguish where one condition begins and another one ends can be very difficult.

There is a very high incidence of coexisting conditions in children who have autism. Some of them are the following:

  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • ADHD
  • Sensory integration disorder
  • Sensory processing disorder
  • Learning disorder
  • Early speech/communication problems
  • Tourette’s syndrome

 Children with autism more commonly have coexisting disorders such as sensory integration disorder, sensory processing disorder, learning disorder, and language problems. Robert Mills of the University of Kent reported that in the findings of intervention studies, sensory disorders were present in 70% of those children with a diagnosis of autism.

The best thing for parents to do is to see a pediatrician who can untangle the many symptoms before providing the appropriate treatment. It would also be beneficial for parents to use an observation log to record things their child does or does not do, and any patterns of behavior that can be taken into consideration when trying to differentiate among conditions or any overlapping features.

According to the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom, there is no known cure for autism, yet, only medication to treat the core symptoms. However, there are medications that can help alleviate aggressive behaviors, such as tantrums and self-injurious behaviors, and also medications that can be used to reduce repetitive thoughts and behaviors that are a feature of other coexisting conditions such as OCD.

If parents want to give medications to their child, it is important that the right medication is given to the child’s unique blend of features because what is suitable for one child with autism with an overlapping or coexisting condition will not be suitable for another child with autism who has a different blend of features or coexisting condition.




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