Individuals on the autism spectrum tend to have to deal with other co-occurring conditions. The types of coexisting conditions and how they manifest will differ in every individual. These conditions can exacerbate the features and symptoms of autism and hence, understanding them will prove useful in helping the individual learn and improve their skills.
There are many coexisting conditions that come with autism, and this article will touch on three common conditions which include: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), sleep disorders and gastrointestinal issues.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition. According to U.S. National Library of Medicine, mental disorders affect your thinking, feeling, mood, and behavior and may be occasional or long-lasting (chronic). They can affect your ability to relate to others and function each day. Individuals with ADHD exhibit inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive behaviours which result in them facing difficulties in their everyday life, interfering with relationships and school. For example, an child with ADHD may find it difficult to pay attention and focus in class, leading to poor learning and grades.
Autism and ADHD have symptoms that are similar, including impulsivity, having difficulties in communicating and focusing. Additionally, because the principles behind Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) are behaviourally-based, they can be applied not only to a child with autism but also a child with ADHD or both. Through behavioural management, therapists will be able to promote good behaviours and help a child with ADHD manage their feelings and behaviours.
Some individuals with autism do report having sleep issues, including difficulty falling asleep, waking up repeatedly in the night, having prolonged nighttime awakenings or waking up very early in the morning. These problems with sleep can worsen the features of autism, such as repetitive behaviours which can, in turn, cause more sleep issues.
Here are some ways that you can help improve your child’s sleep:
Firstly, ensure that the sleep environment is dark, quiet, cool and comfortable for your child. Children with autism might have sensory issues and hence, the environment should be adapted to your child’s needs.
Parents can also establish a bedtime routine to include relaxing activities before sleep. Avoid the use of electronic devices or any activity that can be stimulating and cause difficulty in falling asleep.
The choice of food and drinks can also be a contributing factor to poor sleep. Avoid caffeine when it is close to bedtime. Caffeine can be found not just in coffee, but also in tea and chocolate.
Children with autism who manage to get back to a regular sleep pattern improve their daytime functioning, are less irritable, exhibit less challenging behaviours, and learn better.
Individuals with autism have also been reported to suffer from frequent gastrointestinal or digestion problems, including stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux, vomiting, or bloating. When children on the spectrum suffer from gastrointestinal problems, they may display more undesired behaviours due to discomfort and frustration, which negatively impacts their learning.
These problems are typically treated with dietary restrictions or at other times, through the use of medications.
Hope that this article has helped you gain a better understanding of the three common conditions that may coexist with autism. By understanding your child and treating a related condition, it may ease the symptoms of autism. For example, resolving sleep or gastrointestinal problems can result in improvements in behavioural problems and ease the severity of repetitive behaviours.
Feel free to drop a comment to let us know what you feel about these correlated conditions, or share with the community other conditions you know that are not mentioned!
Written by Winnie.