Autism Spectrum Disorder can be challenging on its own, but conditions co-occurring with autism can make treatment complex. In fact, people with autism are often at higher risk of having co-occurring conditions or comorbidities as they are called. This blog post will explain and explore some of the most common comorbidities of autism, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and OCD, among other conditions.
While each of these conditions can be challenging on its own, they can create a unique set of challenges when they occur together. Understanding the various comorbidities is essential for developing an effective treatment plan.
Disorders Co-Occurring with Autism:
Anxiety is one of the most prevalent conditions co-occurring with autism. A recent study found that the prevalence of at least one anxiety disorder among children with autism was close to 40 percent. Anxiety can surface in many ways. For some people, it may manifest as social anxiety or fear of new situations. Others may experience generalized anxiety or panic attacks. Regardless of how it manifests in a person, anxiety can be a very debilitating condition. It can make it difficult to function in day-to-day life and can impede treatment progress.
Another condition co-occurring with autism is depression. It is estimated that roughly 50 percent of individuals with autism also experience depression. Depression can manifest itself in many ways, but some common symptoms include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and fatigue. Depression can make it challenging to enjoy activities that were once enjoyable and interfere with autism therapy.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood, energy, and behavior changes. Individuals with bipolar disorder can experience episodes of mania, where they feel an intense high, followed by periods of depression, where they feel an extreme low. Bipolar disorder can be very complex and make it difficult to function daily, especially when co-occurring with autism.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
OCD is a condition characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. People with OCD may have repetitive thoughts or ideas that they cannot control. They may also use repetitive behaviors, such as handwashing or organizing, to manage their obsessions. There are many autism traits that are like OCD, so even diagnosing it as co-occurring with autism can be difficult.
Gastrointestinal disorders are commonly seen as co-occurring with autism. Studies have shown that up to 91% of individuals with autism also have some form of GI issue. Common GI issues include constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, and abdominal pain. These gastrointestinal symptoms can cause a great deal of discomfort for individuals with autism. They can be a significant contributor to behavioral problems.
There are many possible explanations for the high rate of GI problems in individuals with autism. One theory is that people with autism may have difficulty processing and digesting specific proteins. This has resulted in some individuals finding relief on gluten-free, casein-free diets. Still, these results are inconsistent for everyone, and more research is required to standardize these claims.
Another possibility is that abnormalities that cause GI problems in autism patients are related to the gut microbiome. Recent studies have shown that individuals with autism tend to have different gut bacteria than neurotypical people.
Whatever the cause, GI issues are a significant problem for many individuals with autism. If your child has autism and is experiencing GI problems, there are many things you can do to help. Work with your child’s doctor to develop an action plan and find what works best for your child. With proper treatment, most children can significantly reduce their GI symptoms co-occurring with autism and improve their quality of life.
Eating Disorders and Feeding Challenges
There are a few different types of eating disorders that are often co-occurring with autism. The first is anorexia nervosa, characterized by self-starvation and an intense fear of gaining weight. Bulimia nervosa consists of binge eating followed by purging through vomiting or excessive exercise. Finally, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is a more recently recognized form of disordered eating characterized by avoidance of certain foods due to texture issues, smell, or other sensory considerations.
While any individual can develop an eating disorder, the co-occurrence rate is exceptionally high among those with autism. This may be due to social interaction and communication difficulties, making it difficult to ask for help with these issues. Additionally, autism spectrum disorder is often accompanied by sensory processing issues, which can make certain foods particularly challenging to eat.
If you suspect your child may suffer from an eating disorder, the first step is to talk to their doctor. They can help you determine if the child may have an eating disorder and what kind of treatment would be best. Many treatment types are available for eating disorders, including therapy, medication, and nutrition counseling. Treatment is unique for everyone, so it’s essential to find a treatment plan that works for your child. With the right help, it can recover from an eating disorder.
ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is a common condition co-occurring with autism. The symptoms of ADHD can include problems with focus, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These symptoms can often make it hard for someone to succeed in school or work. They may also have trouble following instructions or keeping up with conversations.
There are several ways to treat ADHD. One standard method is medication. Medication can help improve focus and concentration. Another method is ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy. This therapy can help an individual learn how to handle their symptoms. It can also teach them new skills to help them succeed in school or work.
You must talk to a doctor if you suspect your child may have ADHD. They can help diagnose the condition and find the best treatment for you or your child.
Sleep Disorders and Disturbances
A variety of sleep disorders can be co-occurring with autism. The most common include insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome. These disorders can lead to difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and getting enough restful sleep. Individuals with autism often have trouble sleeping due to anxiety, sensory issues, and problem behaviors.
Sleep problems can also be caused by certain medications used to treat autism. If you suspect your child has a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor about ways to help them get the rest they need.
Getting enough quality sleep is essential for everyone, but it’s especially crucial for people with autism. Poor sleep can worsen autism symptoms and make it more difficult for individuals to function during the day.
If you’re struggling to get your child with autism to sleep, you can try a few things:
• Establish a bedtime routine to help ease anxiety and provide a sense of predictability.
• Create a calm and comfortable sleeping environment. Selecting what’s best suited for your child may take some effort. This may require experimenting with different mattresses, pillows, and bedding types.
• If your child still has trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about other options, such as medication or ABA therapy.
Getting enough sleep is essential for people with ASD because it improves mood, reduces irritability, and enhances daily concentration. Although most people with ASD have difficulty sleeping at some point in their lives, some have chronic sleep problems.
ABA Centers of America Can Help to Manage Disorders Co-Occurring with Autism
A child with autism experiences various social and communication challenges; additionally, comorbidities can occur. When developing an effective treatment plan for someone with ASD, it is essential to consider all these different factors. Doing so can create a plan that meets the individual’s needs and helps them reach their fullest potential.
This list outlines a few comorbidities associated with autism spectrum disorder. If, after reading this list, it seems like you may need some additional support, connect with us at ABA Centers of America. We have many resources available to learn more about autism and these co-occurring conditions. Knowledge is power in this scenario. Reach us at (844) 923-4222 for a free consultation, or visit abacenters.com.