Do ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), with or without hyperactivity, go hand in hand?
You hear of so many children on the autism spectrum that have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, and children with ADD who then receive the label of autism – what is the connection? Is there one?
There can be an overlap between ADD/ADHD and ASD symptoms that can easily confuse parents and health care practitioners alike. Prior to the DSM V, which was released in the spring of 2013, a diagnosis of ADD and ASD was clinically impossible. Now the newly revised DSM V recognizes that children CAN have both sets of symptoms.Similarities that are partially evident in both conditions at pre-school age are poor attention, impulsivity, and restlessness. Both ASD and ADHD are more common in males than females.
Not knowing the exact label of your child’s behaviors and challenges can be difficult to accept but waiting around for a clear-cut explanation can waste precious time. Regardless of what position you are in, it's always important to focus on what is going on in the current environment.
Rather than passing the time hoping for conclusive evidence, your child would be served better by asking,
“What can I do right now (what can I add, shift or delete from the environment) that will help my child become the . . . (enter the qualifiers that speak to you, such as patient, responsible, engaging, calm, purposeful, . . . ) person I would like her to be?”
Take the time to play detective and look for patterns. Be alert and note things in the environment that trigger your child’s challenging behaviors. Then create a plan of action to address them. This will keep moving you and your child forward.
It’s also important to know that many psychological or developmental disorders of childhood can look like ADD/ADHD and that stress can have a lot to do with it. Always look for situations and circumstances in your environment that cause stress such as unpredictability, learning disabilities, sensory issues, anxiety, and even a lack of healthy sleep habits.
Many children who don’t get enough sleep may appear to have all the markers for ADD. Children and teens have a lot of growing to do - body and brain - that requires constant renewal of cells. This process of continuous regeneration and growth is almost impossible to accomplish without sufficient sleep. This explains why people have difficulty functioning and thinking when they don’t rest properly and how constant fatigue can present as ADD symptoms.
In addition to paying attention to stress and sleep issues, try implementing the strategies experts recommend for any the possible labels you suspect.
If you suspect your child may have ASD focus on keeping him socially engaged and communicating, provide lots of structure and predictability, and create a sensory-friendly/autism-friendly environment that will keep your child out of constant defense mode and minimize challenging behaviors.
If you suspect your child may have ADD make sure she gets adequate sleep and healthy meals for her growing body and mind. Always try to deliver very small chunks of information and give only one direction at a time. Reduce excessive noise, stimuli and distractions to make it easier for your child to focus. Consider creating visuals to post rules and schedules that help with organization. Visual information is easier to retain than auditory statements. And there is no such thing as too much exercise and outdoor play to release pent up energy.
Actually, ALL of these strategies will work to help ANY child – regardless of the label - even neurotypical kids who are not on the ASD or ADHD spectrum. ALL children benefit because these approaches help kids develop more effective ways to cope with life.
Does it matter if your child has ASD, ADHD or both? Of course it does but you don’t have time to waste worrying and waiting for a definitive diagnosis. Take action and do the things you already know will work to help your child maximize his or her potential. In some cases it can take many months, or up to a year, before getting a definitive diagnosis. Unfortunately, a diagnosis is necessary for insurance purposes but I am a firm believer that one does not need a label to help a child blossom.
If you find yourself caught in this limbo land of not knowing whether it is "ASD, ADD or both?", here are some suggestions:
- Trust your instincts and the power you have to make a difference. You know what kind of individual you would like your child to become, the values and independence you want her to gain. If not, identify that now and empower him become that person. Ask yourself everyday “What am I doing to help him become _______ (fill in the blank)?”
- Educate yourself and others. Accumulating sound knowledge can help any parent change possibilities. When doing research and looking for resources always scrutinize them thoroughly. If it’s an Internet site, determine who sponsors the site and assess for credibility. Universities, medical schools and government or public agencies tend to have the most objective sites. Here are a couple of great infographics to start with and share with others: one on autism and one on ADHD.
- Think outside the box. Brainstorm and experiment with all ideas. If something is not working, don’t keep doing it. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, is what Albert Einstein calls insanity – change it up and watch what happens.
- Seek out professionals and get second opinions but don’t waste precious time making that your only focus. Finding the best services for your is always a parents first priority but I encourage you to embrace your personal parenting power and put that into action. If you need help empowering yourself even more, give me a call and I will help you boost your efforts and save you valuable time.
- Examine your self-care and evaluate your emotional health. If you find yourself struggling day-to-day with emotions that keep getting in the way, you may need some extra support. It's important to remove any such roadblocks, especially depression, as it can create distance between you and your child and delay the type of progress you would like to see.
Whether your child’s diagnosis turns out to be ASD or ADD/ADHD or something else, remember – she is the same child and has the same needs as she did prior to the label. Your child needs you to be the patient, loving, confident, and capable person you were before you started to be concerned.