A diagnosis of autism can be confusing for many parents because each child is different and exhibits traits differently. Even more confusing is the fact that many disorders are comorbid (or coexist) with autism.
Disorders that Coexist with Autism
There is a great range of these disorders, so here is a breakdown of what coexists with autism and how often the co-occur.
Allergies and Non-Celiac Food Sensitivities
Children with autism and a history of allergies are more likely to suffer from non-celiac wheat sensitivity. According to the National Autism Association, a child with autism is twice as likely to suffer from allergies and possible wheat sensitivity with irritable bowel disorder present.
There is increasing support for the idea that autoimmune disorders are connected with autism. Actually, a family history of autoimmune disorders have increasingly more likelihood of children with autism. Thus, it is possible that autoimmune disorders play a role or contributing factor in autism.
People with autism frequently have gastrointestinal problems. Thus, this may lead to a number of problems, according to the National Autism Association, including sensory over responsitivity, deregulated sleep, anxiety, and irritability.
There is a high prevalence of seizure disorders in people with autism, making detection and treatment extremely important, as lack of treatment can lead to higher mortality rates. In fact, looking for subtle symptoms of seizure activity is highly suggested in people with autism due to the frequency of seizure disorders in combination with autism.
Symptoms to look out for are appearing to be “blank” or staring into space, loss of consciousness or confusion, unusual behavior like mumbling or wandering about, color changes in the face or lips, changes in breathing, jerking or twitching in the body, going stiff or floppy, wetting oneself, or biting the tongue or cheek.
People with anxiety have symptoms like tension, worry, fear, hyperactivity, or restlessness. However, in people with autism, you might look for more self-stimulating activity, repeating questions frequently, self-harm, or difficulties sleeping. Actually, older children or those with less severe autism more frequently suffer from anxiety, including social anxiety.
While some children may just be inattentive, other symptoms of ADHD including impulsivity (thinking without acting), difficulty focusing, and difficulties with sitting still. In children with autism, these behaviors are magnified and up to two-thirds of children with autism exhibit ADHD characteristics.
People with bipolar disorder have extreme highs (like manic episodes) and extreme lows (depression). More frequent changes in behavior occur in children with bipolar disorder, with quick changes in mood and behavior. One study found that 27% of teenagers and young adults with autism meet the criteria for bipolar disorder.
Some symptoms of depression include low mood, poor sleep and appetite, irritability, and lack of motivation. In children, you might see crankiness more often. This disorder is more common amongst higher functioning autistic individuals who know they have social difficulties and who have a higher IQ.
Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder where people have an extra 21st chromosome. The extra chromosome creates characteristic facial features, developmental delays, poor muscle tone, potential hearing and vision problems and congenital heart defects. Up to 17 percent of children have both autism and Down Syndrome.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders (OCD)
This disorder is common amongst people with autism, who tend to have repetitive thoughts and behavior. This behavior is more common amongst younger children with ASD.
People with Tourette Syndrome have sudden, involuntary, and repetitive movement and vocal tics. In truth, this disorder is common amongst about 11% of the autistic population but is more common amongst those with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities.
Childhood-Onset Schizophrenia (COS)
Studies have shown a frequent comorbidity of autism and COS. Autism and COS have many shared characteristics. These characteristics include social withdrawal, communication impairment, and poor eye contact. However, when stressed, children with autism can also exhibit traits like disordered thoughts and paranoia. In an ongoing study by NIMH, it was found that 28% of children had both autism and COS.
The Big Picture
Autism is a complex disorder that has shared characteristics with many other disorders. However, caution should be used when attempting to diagnose a child with more than one disorder. If you suspect your child has autism and one of these other disorders, it is best to seek a doctor’s advice on what to do next.