ADHD Contributes to Delayed ASD Diagnosis
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects 3-10% of all children, with boys being two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with the condition than girls. Autism spectrum disorder is also a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects 1 in 45-68 children, with boys almost five times more likely to be diagnosed. Neither condition has a simple test or tool to provide a clear diagnosis, and there is some concern that the similarities between the disorders cause a delay of up to three years in the diagnosis of ASD when children have an existing diagnosis of ADHD. Using assessments like ADHDT-2 can help with this process.
While a diagnosis of ASD is possible through assessments like CARS™2 in children under two years old, the median diagnosed age is over four years. 40% of children with specific health issues do not receive an accurate diagnosis of ASD until they are over the age of six.
Reasons for Delayed Diagnosis
There are several reasons for delays in diagnosing ASD when an ADHD diagnosis exists.
- limited awareness of the overlapping symptoms between ADHD and ASD
- lack of awareness of social deficits
- absence of atypical symptoms during routine doctor visits
- impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity may be attributed to ADHD
Necessity of Early Intervention
Early detection of ASD is critical to assist children on the spectrum in living a productive and fulfilling life. Children should be screened as young as 18 months. This is particularly important for children in high-risk groups, such as those with autistic siblings. Early detection leads to early intervention, which has been shown to improve the overall development of a child with ASD in the following ways:
- Autism-appropriate support and education during key developmental phases are likely to develop critical social skills and enable better social functioning.
- Parents can harness the expertise of specialists and organizations to help with their child’s emotional, mental, and physical development.
- Early diagnosis gives parents time to prepare mentally and emotionally for the difficult task of caring for a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder.
- Diagnosing ASD early helps by giving schools a heads up for developing an individualized education plan for the child to help with success in school.
- Early diagnosis helps the child to understand themself and realize they are not alone.
- Concurrent conditions such as anxiety can be eased with a diagnosis that explains what is going on so the child can come to terms with it.
How to Explain the Diagnosis
Parents and young people may have some misconceptions about ASD. It is called a spectrum disorder because the conditions can fall in so many areas on the continuum. The one end has mild cases, the other end has serious conditions, and the middle is a sliding scale between the two extremes. The most important thing to communicate to families affected by ASD is that there are many positives to the diagnosis. Some of the most successful people in the U.S. have an ASD diagnosis. Most people with ASD are productive members of society with a loyal (if somewhat small) group of friends.
WPS can provide more information about pursuing a diagnosis for a child suspected of having a neurodevelopmental disorder such as ASD or ADHD.