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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Autism, ADHD Often Occur Together, Research Shows

Study finds nearly one-third of kids with autism also have problems with attention and hyperactivity
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"What's good about this study is that they went to the trouble to look at who met diagnostic criteria and what was different about those children," said Manning-Courtney, who was not involved in the research.

All the children who had both problems together were boys. Boys have higher rates of autism and ADHD than girls, research shows.

One limitation of the study was that researchers had to rely on questionnaires that are meant to spot ADHD in typical children. There really aren't good tests for attention and hyperactivity developed for kids with autism, and their problems may look different than those seen in typical school-aged children.

Children who are higher functioning on the autism spectrum can have fairly obvious problems with attention.

"It's not that they have a deficit of attention. It's that they can't allocate their attention, or shift their attention to what it needs to be on," Courtney-Manning said. "I talk to parents of kids with autism about attention regulation more than attention deficit."

In children who are more severely autistic, ADHD can be harder to spot.

"It's hard to tell if their activity level is different because they're delayed or they're more severely autistic or if it's ADHD," Courtney-Manning said.

But if parents and teachers are noticing that attention or activity problems are interfering with a child's ability to make progress, that's the time to seek help, she noted.

First-line treatments for attention problems in kids with autism involve behavioral interventions that aim to teach kids to better control their focus.

If the behaviors don't get better with help, Landa said doctors will then move on to medication.

"If your child is having those kinds of problems, it's worth mentioning to the child's doctors and also touching base with the child's teachers," Landa said.

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