Common Co-Occurring Disorders With Autism
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral difficulties. There are many conditions and disorders that are commonly associated with autism that can exacerbate symptoms, causing even more challenges. Most individuals with autism, particularly children, have at least one co-occurring condition and many have more. Some of these conditions are other neurodevelopmental disorders while others are medical conditions. With tailored treatment for these autism co-occurring disorders, individuals can lead fulfilling lives.
Anxiety is one of the most common co-occurring conditions associated with autism, and it’s estimated to impact 40-50% of individuals with autism. Symptoms of anxiety include fear and worry, physical symptoms like increased heart rate and sweating, and avoiding situations that trigger anxiety. Individuals on the autism spectrum may have difficulty recognizing their emotions and communicating them, making stress particularly hard to address. Additionally, autism can already present its own social and communication issues which can further trigger anxiety. Treatment for anxiety in individuals on the autism spectrum may involve cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, as well as strategies to improve social skills and communication.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is another common condition that can co-occur with autism and is found in 30-80% of the autism population. ADHD causes difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Individuals with autism may find it challenging to stay focused on tasks or regulate their emotions, making ADHD symptoms more pronounced. While ADHD can be treated with medication, it is important to consider how the symptoms of autism can interact with ADHD and how treatment plans should address both conditions for the best outcome.
Sleep disorders can be common in individuals on the autism spectrum and can cause significant disruption to nightly routines. Sleep disorders are extremely common among children with autism, and 50-80% of children experience this issue. Sleep disturbances can be caused by GI upset, sensory issues, and discomfort. Disruptive sleep patterns can lead to difficulties with learning and behavior, so it is important to address them early on. Melatonin, which is a natural hormone that helps regulate sleep, can be a useful tool in managing sleep disorders. In addition to melatonin, stress reduction techniques and consistent bedtime routines can also be effective in managing sleep issues.
Epilepsy, or seizures, can be a common co-occurring condition in individuals on the autism spectrum and affects 20-35% of individuals with ASD. Seizures can be caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, and they can range from mild movements to severe loss of consciousness. Seizures can be difficult to manage, and they require medical treatment. Medication is typically recommended, and in some cases, dietary changes can be effective in controlling seizures.
Gastrointestinal (GI) issues are very common in individuals with autism, particularly those who have difficulty with communication and sensory processing. GI issues can range from mild stomach aches to severe and chronic symptoms, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). These GI issues can cause feeding disorders in children with autism. Treatment for GI issues typically involves dietary modifications, medication, and other lifestyle changes that can be learned in feeding therapy. It is important to consult with a medical professional to develop an effective plan to address concerns.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is an evidence-based treatment for autism and can help treat autism co-occurring conditions. ABA is a form of therapy that uses positive reinforcement and other behavioral techniques to teach new skills. ABA can help individuals with autism understand their emotions and manage stress better, as well as learn positive self-regulation strategies that can benefit other co-occurring disorder challenges. ABA can also be used to help individuals with autism improve their communication, social, and self-care skills. Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) can also provide guidance and support to caregivers to ensure the best possible outcome for the individual.
Empower Behavioral Health provides various ABA therapy services for individuals with autism and co-occurring disorders of all ages throughout Texas. We develop individualized treatment plans to ensure we’re meeting all of the unique needs of our patients. We also provide diagnostic evaluations for autism, neurodevelopmental disorders, and mental health conditions like anxiety. If you are interested in learning more about how Empower Behavioral Health can benefit your child, contact us or get started today.