A pair of new studies has provided new insight into the challenges faced by children on the autism spectrum who exhibit symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to the findings from researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), these children have difficulty with adaptive behavior, a key measure of independence.
Additionally, researchers pinpointed weaker functional connections in two large brain networks in children on the autism spectrum who have co-occurring ADHD symptoms.
The first study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, analyzed adaptive behavior, a key measure of how a person is able to function independently at home, school and in the community. Communication skills, self-care skills and social skills are examples of adaptive behavior. Many of these skill areas are often impaired in children on the autism spectrum, and the gap between autistic children and typically developing children widens during adolescence. Understanding factors that contribute to adaptive behavior impairments may reveal critical points for intervention.
Prior studies have shown that autistic children and co-occurring ADHD diagnoses have greater adaptive behavior impairments compared with those without co-occurring ADHD. However, there are many children on the autism spectrum who do not have an ADHD diagnosis, but have some ADHD behaviors. Therefore, researchers suspected the possibility that the presence of these behaviors could affect how a child functions both at home and at school.
“Using a case-control study, we wanted to know if ADHD symptoms associated with adaptive behavior regardless of whether children on the autism spectrum had an ADHD diagnosis or not,” said Benjamin Yerys, PhD, a psychologist in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at CHOP, a child psychologist in the Center for Autism Research at CHOP and lead author of the study. “This study is also the first to investigate whether this relationship between ADHD symptoms and adaptive behaviors is also present in the school setting. Showing this relationship in more than one setting is critical for demonstrating the far-reaching effects of ADHD symptoms on a child’s functioning.”