Conditions comorbid to autism spectrum disorders

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Autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including Asperger syndrome, are neurological disorders that begin in early childhood, persist throughout adulthood, and affect three crucial areas of development: communication, social interaction and restricted patterns of behavior.[1] There are many conditions comorbid to autism spectrum disorders, such as fragile X syndrome and epilepsy. In medicine and in psychiatry, comorbidity describes the effect of other diseases an individual patient might have other than the primary disease of interest. About 10–15% of autism cases have an identifiable Mendelian (single-gene) condition, chromosome abnormality, or other genetic syndrome,[2] and ASD is associated with several genetic disorders.[3]

Distinguishing between ASDs and other diagnoses can be challenging because the traits of ASDs often overlap with symptoms of other disorders and the characteristics of ASDs make traditional diagnostic procedures difficult.[4][5]

Comorbid conditions[edit]

Anxiety[edit]

Anxiety disorders are the second most commonly diagnosed disorders among children with an ASD[6], although there are no firm data. Symptoms are likely affected by age, level of cognitive functioning, degree of social impairment, and ASD-specific difficulties. Many anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder, are not commonly diagnosed in people with ASD because such symptoms are better explained by ASD itself, and it is often difficult to tell whether symptoms such as compulsive checking are part of ASD or a co-occurring anxiety problem. The prevalence of anxiety disorders in children with ASD has been reported to be anywhere between 11% and 84%; the wide range is likely due to differences in the ways the studies were conducted.[7]

Anxiety may become worse during adolescence. This may be because, as they move into adolescence, young children start to face different and more complex social environments, and they start to recognize and become more sensitive to how they are different from their peers and the different types of interpersonal difficulties that may arise.[8] With deficits in social reciprocity and communication, individuals with ASDs are prime candidates to be anxious. Anxiety does not just present itself in one stage of life for these individuals, instead it is common from adolescence through adulthood for adulthood for individuals with an ASD.[9] Communication deficits may be associated with a decreased level of expressed anxiety because these individuals may present a severe appearance overall across the areas of their functioning abilities, including a decreased ability to appear anxious.[10]

Communication Deficits[edit]

If a child has a deficit in communication, this could be a sign that the child may not be developing at the appropriate rate.[11] Communication deficits may be associated with a decreased level of expressed anxiety because these individuals may present a severe appearance overall across the areas of their functioning abilities, including a decreased ability to appear anxious.[12]

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder[edit]

Previously, the diagnosis manual DSM-IV did not allow the co-diagnosis of ASD and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) . However, following years of clinical research, the most recent publication (DSM-5) in 2013 removed this prohibition of co-morbidity. Thus, individuals with autism spectrum disorder may also have a diagnosis of ADHD, with the modifiers of inattentive, hyperactive, combined-type, or not otherwise specified. Clinically significant symptoms of these two conditions commonly co-occur, and children with both sets of symptoms may respond poorly to standard ADHD treatments. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder may benefit from additional types of medications or from behavioral or other therapies, such as applied behavior analysis and neuro-feedback.[13][14]

Bipolar disorder[edit]

Pediatric bipolar disorder, or manic-depression, is a highly controversial diagnosis[15] and is itself often claimed to be comorbid with a number of conditions, including autism.[16] Autism includes some symptoms commonly found in mood and anxiety disorders.[17]

Bowel disease[edit]

Some children with autism also have gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, but there is a lack of published rigorous data to support the theory that autistic children have more or different GI symptoms than usual.[18] It has been claimed that up to fifty percent of children with autism experience persistent gastrointestinal tract problems, ranging from mild to moderate degrees of inflammation in both the upper and lower intestinal tract. This has been described as a syndrome, autistic enterocolitis, by Dr. Andrew Wakefield; this diagnostic terminology, however, has been questioned by medical experts, and Wakefield's 1998 paper has since been shown to be fraudulent. Constipation, often with overflow, or encopresis, is often associated with developmental disorders in children, and is often difficult to resolve, especially among those with behavioral and communication problems.[19]

Developmental coordination disorder[edit]

The initial accounts of Asperger syndrome[20] and other diagnostic schemes[21] include descriptions of developmental coordination disorder. Children with ASD may be delayed in acquiring motor skills that require motor dexterity, such as bicycle riding or opening a jar, and may appear awkward or "uncomfortable in their own skin". They may be poorly coordinated, or have an odd or bouncy gait or posture, poor handwriting, or problems with visual-motor integration, visual-perceptual skills, and conceptual learning.[20][22] They may show problems with proprioception (sensation of body position) on measures of developmental coordination disorder, balance, tandem gait, and finger-thumb apposition.[20]

Fragile X syndrome[edit]

Fragile X syndrome is the most common inherited form of intellectual disability. It was so named because one part of the X chromosome has a defective piece that appears pinched and fragile when under a microscope. Fragile X syndrome affects about two to five percent of people with ASD.[23] It is important to have a person with autism checked for Fragile X, especially if the parents are considering having another child. If one child has Fragile X, there is a 50% chance that boys born to the same parents will have Fragile X (see Mendelian genetics). Other members of the family who may be contemplating having a child may also wish to be checked for the syndrome.

Intellectual disability[edit]

The fraction of autistic individuals who also meet criteria for intellectual disability has been reported as anywhere from 25% to 70%, a wide variation illustrating the difficulty of assessing autistic intelligence.[24] For example, a 2001 British study of 26 autistic children found about 30% with intelligence in the normal range (IQ above 70), 50% with mild to moderate retardation, and about 20% with severe to profound retardation (IQ below 35). For ASD other than autism the association is much weaker: the same study reported normal intelligence in about 94% of 53 children with PDD-NOS.[25] Estimates are that 40–69% of individuals with ASD have some degree of intellectual disability,[26] with females more likely to be in severe range of intellectual disability. Learning disabilities are also highly comorbid in individuals with an ASD. Approximately 25–75% of individuals with an ASD also have some degree of learning disability,[27] although the types of learning disability vary depending on the specific strengths and weaknesses of the individual.

A 2006 review questioned the common assumption that most children with autism have ID.[28] It is possible that the association between intellectual disability and autism is not because they usually have common causes, but because the presence of both makes it more likely that both will be diagnosed.[29]

Neuroinflammation and immune disorders[edit]

The role of the immune system and neuroinflammation in the development of autism is controversial. Until recently, there was scant evidence supporting immune hypotheses, but research into the role of immune response and neuroinflammation may have important clinical and therapeutic implications. The exact role of heightened immune response in the central nervous system (CNS) of patients with autism is uncertain, but may be a primary factor in triggering and sustaining many of the comorbid conditions associated with autism. Recent studies indicate the presence of heightened neuroimmune activity in both the brain tissue and the cerebrospinal fluid of patients with autism, supporting the view that heightened immune response may be an essential factor in the onset of autistic symptoms.[30] A 2013 review also found evidence of microglial activation and increased cytokine production in postmortem brain samples from people with autism.[31]

Nonverbal learning disorder[edit]

Obsessive-compulsive disorder[edit]

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by recurrent obsessional thoughts or compulsive acts. About 30% of children with autism spectrum disorders also have OCD.[32]

Tourette syndrome[edit]

The prevalence of Tourette syndrome among individuals with autism is estimated to be 6.5%, higher than the 2% to 3% prevalence for the general population. Several hypotheses for this association have been advanced, including common genetic factors and dopamine, glutamate or serotonin abnormalities.[3]

Seizures[edit]

ASD is also associated with epilepsy, with variations in risk of epilepsy due to age, cognitive level, and type of language disorder.[33] One in four autistic children develops seizures, often starting either in early childhood or adolescence.[34] Seizures, caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, can produce a temporary loss of consciousness (a "blackout"), a body convulsion, unusual movements, or staring spells. Sometimes a contributing factor is a lack of sleep or a high fever. An EEG can help confirm the seizure's presence. Typically, onset of epilepsy occurs before age five or during puberty.[35] and is more common in females and individuals who also have a comorbid intellectual disability.

Sensory problems[edit]

Unusual responses to sensory stimuli are more common and prominent in autistic children, although there is no good evidence that sensory symptoms differentiate autism from other developmental disorders.[36] Sensory processing disorder is comorbid with ASD, with comorbidity rates of 42–88%.[37]

Several studies have reported associated motor problems that include poor muscle tone, poor motor planning, and toe walking; ASD is not associated with severe motor disturbances.[38]

Tuberous sclerosis[edit]

Tuberous sclerosis is a rare genetic disorder that causes benign tumors to grow in the brain as well as in other vital organs. It has a consistently strong association with the autism spectrum. One to four percent of autistic people also have tuberous sclerosis.[39] Studies have reported that between 25% and 61% of individuals with tuberous sclerosis meet the diagnostic criteria for autism with an even higher proportion showing features of a broader pervasive developmental disorder.[40] Sleep disorders are also commonly reported by parents of children with ASDs, including late sleep onset, early morning awakening, and poor sleep maintenance.[35]

Other mental disorders[edit]

Phobias, depression and other psychopathological disorders have often been described along with ASD but this has not been assessed systematically.[41]

The presentation of depression in ASDs can depend on level of cognitive functioning, with lower functioning children displaying more behavior issues and higher functioning children displaying more traditional depressive symptoms.[4] Depression is thought to develop and occur more in high-functioning individuals during adolescence, when they develop greater insight into their differences from others.[26]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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