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Autism Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Updated on September 6, 2019
Dominique Mahon profile image

I am a mother of three beautiful daughters, a teenager and 2 rapidly approaching those havoc teenage years.

What is a Neurodevelopmental Disorder

Neurodevelopmental disorders are a cluster of disorders that present symptomologies during the developmental stages of an individual. It is common for an individual to present symptomologies of the presence of developmental deficits around the age of 12 months to 24 months of age. These developmental deficits can range from learning limitations to global impairments of the individual’s intelligence or social skills, according the American Psychiatric Association (2013). There are two very common neurodevelopmental disorders that are primarily found in children, which are Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. There is a growing rate of children presenting symptomologies of these two neurodevelopmental disorders. The demand of training in the sector of Applied Behavioral Analysis has greatly increased, as more children are being diagnosed with Autism. It has become common for a child with Autism to meet criterion for a comorbid diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Autism Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder commonly present deficits in multiple areas relating to social interactions and communications. These deficits are commonly present within the sectors of developing skills and the development of relationships. The onset of this neurodevelopmental disorder is commonly present in individuals between 12 to 24 months of age. The extent of delays and the severity of this disorder can vary between individuals, as well as the decline in skill sets over the course of life. Some of the more common identifiers of an individual meeting criterion for Autism are deficits in language and social skills. In an individual with Autism, a lack of communicative skills can be present in the child. The child may not be able to repeat words or begin speaking single words by the age of 12 months of age, commonly identified as a delay in language development. There is a percentage of these children that may not be able to communicate using verbal language, where the use of peck books and AAC devices become their way of communication during school age.

Social deficits are typically present in individuals affected with a neurodevelopmental disorder. These areas of concern in a child can vary from their inability to engage in play, an inability to interact with children within their age range in play groups, as well as, withdrawal from others that attempt to engage with the child. The presentation of regression and deterioration in skill sets are a common presentation for an individual to meet criterion for Autism. It is common for this population of individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders to present odd behavioral patterns, such as an obsession of how they complete a task or how things need to be arranged. These odd behavioral patterns can extend to the method of a particular direction needing to be taken navigating from one destination to another. A common example, can be walking along the left side of a hallway leaving a room; while using the right side of the hall to travel into a room. Repetitive behavioral patterns are common in this population of individuals. It is common for them to have to a particular way of completing a task, such as having to put their left shoe on before putting on their right shoe.

A Common Comorbid Disorder

The statistical presence of an individual with Autism having comorbid diagnoses such as, anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, behavioral issues and depression is typically common in this population (van Steensel, Bogels, de Bruin, 2013). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also referred to as ADHD is clinically based off the presentation of an individual presenting a persistent pattern of behaviors, impulsivity and sense of restlessness, an inability to concentration or stay focused on a task, and disorganization the interferes with the development and functioning capabilities of the individual (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). These indicators are typically present during childhood with presentations in the schooling and home environments. Some individuals may present delays in language, motor development, and social development that are not necessarily criterions of an individual with ADHD but are commonly seen in this population of children. Common effects of cognitive delays and executive functioning are a result of the individual’s inattentiveness, as a behavioral component.

Cultural Factors

There are cultural factors that influence recognition of deficits in individuals meeting particular criterions for Autism but no suggesting cultural factors have any influence on the presence of the disorder among cultures. In a study conducted on the cognitive functioning levels of children with autism between the ages of 3 – 10 years of age, ranging from 1986 to 1993, the study revealed no significance in the ratio of white to black participants 1:1 (Bhasin, Schendel, 2007). This study provided statistical support in the gender differences in individuals diagnosed with Autism. There are statistically greater pools of males diagnosed with Autism, than their female counterparts. To support this growing statistical trend, the DSM 5 recognized the gender prevalence of males being four times more likely to present criterions of Autism Spectrum Disorder, compared to females (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). The sociodemographic factors of individuals revealed some important differences in relation to the individuals receiving diagnoses for Autism. The acknowledged socioeconomic differences were based on the family’s income, education, residence; in the study supported by Bhasin and Schendel (2007). Families of a higher sociodemographic were more likely to seek out treatment outside the boundaries of their community network and provide more descriptive responses to the questionnaire used in the study, than families of a lower sociodemographic area; which sought limited treatment within their communicative boundaries and provided fewer responses to the questionnaire during their participation of the study between 1986 and 1993 (Bhasin, Schendel, 2007).

Environmental Factors

There are several environmental factors which predispose an individual to becoming a risk for the development of ADHD. These predisposed factors are a reflection of the individual’s environmental factors, without limitations of common genetic factors. Neurotoxin exposure and smoking during pregnancy are two common environmental exposures, although factors in one’s change of environment can simulate the development of ADHD. A history of multiple foster care placements, infections, abuse and neglect are additional environmental factors that can affect the onset of the disorder. Statistically speaking, there are a greater percentage of males diagnosed with ADHD than females 2:1 to 9:1 depending on the subtype, while females range higher in the area of inattentiveness (Rucklidge, 2008). History has suggested in recent years that African American males out number Caucasian males with receiving a diagnosis for ADHD, although current studies have shifted the assumptions around racial stereotypes for individuals diagnosed with ADHD. According to a study conducted at Lehigh University, where the primary focus of the study was to compare African American’s and Caucasian’s with ADHD; revealed that there were no significant differences based off race for the population of males diagnosed with ADHD. There are a lot of contradicting analyses around if the race of the individual diagnosed with this neurodevelopmental disorder has any effect on the individual’s level of hyperactivity and inattentiveness. In a multilevel study comparing African American and Caucasian males between the ages of 4 – 17 years, concluded two separate analysis. In the first study, the participants were evaluated by caregivers and their teachers which revealed Caucasians had a higher SES, although Caucasian children had higher levels of inattentiveness reported by their by their teachers than parents (Lawson, Nissley-Tsiopinis, Nahmias, McConaughy, Eiraldi, 2017 parents than teachers; while African American had higher levels of hyperactivity and impulsivity rates reported). The second trial of the sample participants offered a differing analysis, which was conducted through test examiners that revealed there was not a significant relation to the SES of the two sample groups. There were varying differences in the second study, African Americans had lower levels of hyperactivity and impulsivity; although factors related to one-to-one testing being conducted in the second trial referenced African American children had fewer behavioral problems in a secluded area compared to the typical classroom setting (Lawson, Nissley-Tsiopinis, Nahmias, McConaughy, Eiraldi, 2017). The factors of SES comparison varied substantially between parent, teacher, and test examiner, which suggest the SES of the school and home can impact a child diagnosed with ADHD, in services and care rendered.

Times are changing....

Times have changed, as more children are suffering from neurodevelopmental disorder comparatively to a decade ago. With the rise of this growing concern, the demand for trained and educated therapists has gained momentum with the fields of psychology, occupational health, and speech pathology. The need for providing school and in-home services has inclined due to the needs of the individuals. The services available to this population of individuals serves to improve their quality of life, development of skills, and educating families in order to better serve their children.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Bhasin, T. K., & Schendel, D. (2007). Sociodemographic risk factors for autism in a US metropolitan area. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(4), 667-77.

Lawson, G. M., Nissley-tsiopinis, J., Nahmias, A., Mcconaughy, S. H., & Eiraldi, R. (2017). Do parent and teacher report of ADHD symptoms in children differ by SES and racial status? Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 39(3), 426-440.

Rucklidge, J. J. (2008). Gender differences in ADHD: Implications for psychosocial treatments. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 8(4), 643-55.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Dominique Mahon


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