Understanding Co-Occurring Conditions with Autism: A Guide for Parents
As a parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder, you may already be aware that your child’s condition is not an isolated one. While autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior, it often co-occurs with other medical and mental health conditions. In fact, research shows that up to 70 percent of people with ASD have at least one co-occurring condition.
It can be overwhelming to navigate all of the potential issues that come with co-occurring conditions, but understanding them can help you provide better care for your child. In this guide, we’ll explore some of the most common co-occurring conditions with autism spectrum disorder and how they may impact your child’s development and daily life.
What are co-occurring or comorbid conditions?
Co-occurring conditions are medical or mental health issues that occur alongside autism. They can range from physical issues such as digestive problems to psychological ones like anxiety and depression. Co-occurring conditions can present differently in each person, and may also change over time. It’s important to be aware of the potential for comorbid conditions and to keep an eye out for any changes in your child’s behavior or health.
Common Co-Occurring Conditions with Autism spectrum disorder
There are four categories of co-occurring conditions that are commonly seen in children with autism spectrum disorder: medical, developmental delays, psychological and genetic disorders. Here’s an overview of the most common issues within each category.
Common autism medical comorbidities that present itself with autism include:
- Sleep disorders: Poor sleep is often more common in children with autism spectrum disorder and can affect their day-to-day functioning. Common problems include difficulty falling asleep and sleep disturbances.
- Gastrointestinal (GI) issues: A variety of GI issues, such as chronic constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain may be present in those with autism.
- Seizures or epilepsy: Epilepsy or other seizure disorders are more common in children with autism than those without.
- Allergies: Allergic issues, such as asthma and sensitivities to certain foods, may be present among individuals with autism.
- Tourette syndrome: Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary motor and vocal tics.
Some developmental delays that are commonly co-occurring with autism include:
- Intellectual disabilities: Approximately one-third of individuals with autism also have an intellectual disability.
- Speech and language delays: Delays in speech and language development are common for children with autism, though these may improve over time with treatment.
- Sensory processing issues: Children with autism often experience sensory sensitivities or difficulties that can affect their ability to interact with the world around them.
- Fine motor skills and gross motor skills delay: Motor skill delays, such as difficulty with balance and coordination, can be present in those with autism.
Some of the most common psychological conditions seen with autism include:
- Anxiety: Anxiety is often present in those with autism, and can be linked to difficulty interpreting social cues or other issues related to their disorder. Other Anxiety disorders such as social anxiety fall under this category.
- Depression: Children with autism may also experience depression due to challenges they face in life or difficulty interacting with others.
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): ADHD is a neurological disorder characterized by hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattentiveness that may be seen alongside autism.
- OCD: Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that can present in those with autism.
- Bipolar disorder: Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by extreme shifts in mood and energy that can be seen in those with autism.
There are certain genetic disorders that may be more common among those with autism, including:
- Fragile X syndrome: Fragile X syndrome is an inherited condition caused by a mutation of the FMR1 gene and is seen in approximately 5-10% of those with autism.
- Tuberous sclerosis: Tuberous sclerosis is a genetic disorder characterized by the growth of noncancerous tumors in various parts of the body that may co-occur with autism.
- Angelman syndrome: Angelman syndrome is a rare neurological condition caused by a mutation in the UBE3A gene that may present with autism.
- Down syndrome: Down syndrome is a chromosomal disorder caused by an extra copy of the 21st chromosome that may be seen in those with autism.
It’s important to be aware of these comorbid conditions and to keep an eye out for any changes in a child’s behavior or health. If you have concerns, it’s always best to speak with a health care provider. With early intervention and treatment, many of these conditions can be managed effectively.
How does co-occurring conditions make diagnosing a child with autism more difficult?
Co-occurring conditions can make it more difficult to accurately diagnose a child with autism spectrum disorder, as some of the symptoms of these conditions may overlap with those of autism. This is why it’s important for healthcare providers to thoroughly assess the individual and ask questions about their medical history in order to arrive at an accurate diagnosis.
Additionally, some co-occurring conditions may need their own treatment plan in order to manage them effectively, which can be an additional challenge for families. It is important to seek help from experienced healthcare providers who are familiar with autism and the other conditions that may be present. With early intervention and proper care, many of these conditions can be managed successfully.
How do co-occurring conditions affect the quality of life and independence of a child with autism?
Co-occurring conditions can have an impact on the quality of life and independence of a child with autism spectrum disorder, as they may need extra support in order to manage their symptoms. For example, if a child has difficulty processing social cues due to their autism, they may also have difficulty regulating their emotions if they suffer from anxiety or depression. This can make it difficult for them to interact with others and achieve independence.
Additionally, some children with autism may require extra support in order to manage physical difficulties such as motor skill delays or sensory processing issues. With the right treatment plan and support, however, many children with autism are able to find their own way to independence and lead fulfilling lives.
How can parents of a child with autism and co-occurring conditions provide the best support?
Parents of a child with autism spectrum disorder and co-occurring conditions can provide the best support by taking an active role in their child’s care. This includes staying up to date on the latest research about autism and co-occurring conditions, learning about different treatment options and working with healthcare providers to create an individualized treatment plan for their child. Additionally, parents can provide emotional support by being understanding of their child’s needs and encouraging them in whatever activities or interests they may have. By being involved in their child’s care, parents can ensure that their child receives the best support possible to help them reach their full potential.
Co-occurring conditions with autism can present unique challenges for parents and caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorder. It’s important to be aware of these potential issues and work with healthcare providers to provide comprehensive care for your child. While each child’s needs may be different, taking a proactive approach to addressing co-occurring conditions can help improve your child’s quality of life and overall well-being.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.
- Explaining Autism to a Child with Autism: A Guide for Parents - September 20, 2023
- Non-Profit Organizations That Provide Activities for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder - September 20, 2023
- Understanding the Intersection of Autism and Alexithymia - September 5, 2023