ADHD, autism similarities to be revealed by research to develop effective behavioral therapies

By: Bel Marra Health | Mental Health | Monday, January 18, 2016 - 01:30 PM

ADHD, autism similarities to be revealed by research to develop effective behavioral therapiesMore research seems to suggest a link between ADHD and autism that could lead to the development of useful behavioral therapy treatments.

Jean Gehricke is the well- known associate professor of pediatrics at University of California, Irvine and he’s a clinical psychologist with the Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Right now a great deal of his work focuses on gaining a better understanding of why people with ADHD and autism seem to be more prone to substance abuse.

In 2014, Gerhicke and his colleagues were able to identify a genetic trait shared by people who suffer from ADHD and those with autism that explains some of the behaviors associated with both disorders. According to Gerhicke, the aggression and health risk actions are caused by a distorted dopamine signal in the brain and a gene known as, “DRD4” is critical in regulating this function. The researchers discovered that a certain form of the gene, which is associated with altered dopamine regulation is “overrepresented” in both those with ADHD and those with autism.

“It’s the genetic fingerprint of these types of conduct,” Gerhicke said in a UCI news bulletin.

Gerhicke and his team are particularly focused on nicotine addiction, a shared ADHD-autism inclination. He believes early behavioral therapy could prevent autistic children from smoking and vaping.

Children with ASD; an autism spectrum disorder also have ADHDautism

UC, Irvine is not the only research university looking into ADHD and autism similarities. There are other universities, as well as institutes around the globe that have recognized the connection. For instance, Kennedy Krieger Institute, an internationally known organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with brain, spinal cord and musculoskeletal disorders, has conducted studies on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

A 2013 study by the Kennedy Krieger Institute showed that nearly one-third of kids with ASD also had significant ADHD symptoms. The research also found that children with both ASD and ADHD are more impaired on measures of cognitive social and adaptive functioning than children with just ASD. Unlike many studies, this investigation was based mostly on children who entered the study as infants or toddlers, which tends to be long before ADHD is diagnosed. By having patients as infants and toddlers, the chances of bias results in significantly reduced.

The study findings suggest that children with what appears to be a combination of ADHD and ASD may need different treatment methods or intensities of treatment than those with just ASD in order to achieve a beneficial outcome.

ADHD symptoms may overshadow or mask autism spectrum disorder

While there may be similarities between ADHD and autism, it is important to remember that there is an ADHD and autism difference. Still, it is not uncommon for a child to be misdiagnosed with one or the other.

A recent study revealed that ADHD symptoms could mask autism in very young children. Researchers looked at survey information on about 1,500 children with autism. In the survey, parents were asked about whether or not their child had been diagnosed with ADHD or autism. They were asked to provide the age when their child was diagnosed as well. About 43 percent were told they had both conditions. At least two out
of every five had been diagnosed with ADHD first.

Most of the children, who were initially diagnosed with ADHD, ended up being diagnosed with autism after age 6. Interestingly, children diagnosed with ADHD were nearly 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with autism after age 6 compared to kids who only received a diagnosis of autism.

Some experts argue the evidence indicates that doctors may be rushing to diagnose of ADHD at an age that is too early. It is being suggested that at 4 or 5 years old, doctors should be looking at developmental disorders that are more common for the age group.

Parents who are concerned that their child may have ADHD should take their child to a developmental pediatrician for a thorough examination and diagnosis.

ADHD vs. Autism symptoms

ADHDADHD and autism comorbidity continues to be a source of research. While you or your child may have received a diagnosis of one of these disorders, it is important to understand that they don’t always go hand-in-hand. It is true that ADHD and autism do share some symptoms, but they also have some differences.

Here are some typical ADHD symptoms:

  • Switching attention from one thing to another
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Growing bored quickly
  • Constant talking
  • Dashing around a room (trouble sitting still)
  • Blurting out comments
  • Not showing concern for others’ feelings

Some symptoms of autism spectrum disorder include the following:

  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Inability to react to others’ emotions
  • Unresponsive to common stimuli
  • Intense concentration on a single item
  • Impaired social interaction
  • Repetitive movement, such as rocking

Statistics show that nine percent of children between 13 and 18 have ADHD. One in 68 American children has been diagnosed with autism. The numbers are rising yearly. Why is this happening?

Some experts suspect it has a lot to do with patient advocacy and education. It’s a subject that is talked about now. People are aware and willing to discuss their concerns if they suspect their child may have either of the disorders. Others wonder if it is a case of pushing performance in our kids. In other words, at the first sign of a problem at school we are rushing our children to the doctor, demanding a medical diagnosis for little Johnny’s low grades and misbehaving. Whatever the case, we do know that the research community is listening – they are moving forward, investigating both ADHD and ASD from all angles in the hopes of helping those who legitimately suffer from these life-changing disorders.

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) tied to higher eating disorder risk

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