ADHD May Mask Autism in Young Children

A study published online Sept. 14 and which will be published in the October journal Pediatrics showed that symptoms that were attributed to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may conceal autism spectrum disorder in very young children. It took on average 3 years longer for children initially thought to have just ADHD to get an autism diagnosis.

According to Dr. Amir Miodovnik, a developmental pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital , “three years is a significant amount of time for the kids to not be receiving therapy.”1 For the study, the researchers looked at data on nearly 1500 children with autism that were part of the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health. The survey asked parents whether their children were diagnosed with ADHD or autism and at what age the children were at diagnosis. Approximately 43% of the kids had the dual diagnosis.

The study found that more than 40% of the children diagnosed with ADHD and autism had the ADHD diagnosed first. A majority—81%–of the kids initially diagnosed with ADHD were diagnosed with autism after age 6. Children diagnosed with ADHD first were 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with autism after age 6 than those children diagnosed with only autism. The children first diagnosed with ADHD also were 30 times more likely to receive an autism diagnosis after age 6 than children who were diagnosed with ADHD and autism at the same time or initially diagnosed with autism and received an ADHD diagnosis later.

Dr. Miodovnik concludes that “parents who believe a child younger than 5 has ADHD should take their child to a developmental pediatrician, rather than a family physician, to make sure that possible autism will not be overlooked. “ He further stated that if a parent “suspects ADHD in very young children, it’s probably best for them to be evaluated by a specialist, partly to not miss a diagnosis of autism, and also because managing a child with ADHD can be complicated.”1

Such is the case (only with worse delays) in my own family. I did not get an autism diagnosis until age 40 and I got an ADHD diagnosis a few years earlier. My daughter got an ADHD diagnosis at age 6—though the symptoms were apparent a year or two earlier. The autism was diagnosed at age 7 ½ and only because the new psychiatrist I brought her to for ADHD meds recognized the autism in both of us.

Source: 1 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/

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