If I am autistic, can I be diagnosed with co-occurring conditions?
If someone has been diagnosed as autistic and they have another co-occurring condition and/or intellectual disability, sometimes these additional challenges can all be seen as just part of their autism diagnosis. It is really important that we understand that autistic people can (and very often do) have co-occurring conditions such as ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia or co-occurring mental health difficulties such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders or OCD. Sometimes someone who is autistic might also have 3 or 4 other diagnoses. Sometimes these additional diagnoses can be unhelpful (e.g. a personality disorder) but sometimes they can be very helpful in getting someone the right support (e.g. for dyspraxia). An occupational therapy assessment can be useful for picking up on possible co-occuring conditions like dyspraxia. As a society, our understanding of various conditions is improving and therefore, gradually, it is becoming more and more common for people to pick up on these conditions and receive multiple diagnoses. In Ireland, unfortunately it can sometimes be difficult to get the appropriate supports if you are autistic and have a co-occuring mental health difficulties as our Disability Services and Mental Health Services are separate. This means that you will be sent to different teams to receive your different supports.
Many Autistic people also have other conditions or disabilities. This shows how important it it is to look at every individual on the Autism Spectrum as just that – an individual, with distinct needs, strengths and challenges. When an Autistic person is diagnosed with another condition it is vital that the challenges of both conditions are explored and addressed. It is also important to remember that if an Autistic person is diagnosed with another condition, the manner in which the other condition is explored and addressed may need to be adjusted so that it is suitable for an Autistic individual. It is also important that the characteristics associated with Autism are explored in an autism context, not just as an “add-on” to another clinical need.
Below we will provide a short introduction to some conditions which commonly co-occur with Autism and point you to advocacy organisations with specific expertise in these areas.
There is a high occurrence of Autistic people who will also be diagnosed with another developmental condition such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. There is also significant cross-over in terms of clinical needs and characteristics between the 4 conditions.
According to the Dyslexia Association of Ireland, Dyslexia is “a specific learning difficulty affecting the acquisition of fluent and accurate reading and spelling skills. This occurs despite access to appropriate learning opportunities. Dyslexia is characterised by cognitive difficulties in (1) phonological processing, (2) working memory, and (3) speed of retrieval of information from long term memory. Dyslexic difficulties occur on a continuum from mild to severe and affect approximately 10% of the population. People with dyslexia may experience greater stress and frustration as they endeavour to learn, resulting in heightened anxiety, particularly in relation to literacy acquisition. People with dyslexia may also have accompanying learning strengths.”
To find out more about Dyslexia, visit the Dyslexia Association of Ireland website here.
According to the Dyspraxia Association of Ireland, Dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults. It is a chronic neurological disorder beginning in childhood that can affect planning of movements and co-ordination as a result of brain messages not being accurately transmitted to the body
To find out more visit the Dyspraxia Association of Ireland’s website here.
According to Epilepsy Ireland, the word ‘epilepsy’ is derived from the Greek word meaning ‘to be seized, to be overwhelmed by surprise’. To have epilepsy is to have a tendency to have recurring seizures. Anyone can have a seizure, if the brain is exposed to a strong enough stimulus. We know that about 1 in every 20 people will have a single seizure at some time during their lives. Official figures received by Epilepsy Ireland support its estimation that there are over 37,000 people with epilepsy in Ireland.
Autistic people, and individuals with other developmental conditions, are significantly more likely to have epilepsy than the neurotypical population. It can also be difficult, at times, to separate seizures from autistic characteristics such as staring into space, stimming, repetitive behaviours, poor responsiveness or self-injurious behaviour. This can be especially true of people with Autism who have intellectual disabilities or communication difficulties.
To find out more about Epilepsy visit the Epilepsy Ireland website here.
Between 30-40% of Autistic individuals also have an intellectual or learning disability. It is important that both needs are addressed and explored fully to ensure the person is able to reach their own personal potential. It is also important that the person’s education, workplace and community is accessible and accommodating to them as an individual, bearing in mind the additional needs from both diagnoses.
To find out more about Intellectual Disabilities visit Inclusion Ireland’s website here.
According to Down Syndrome Ireland, Down syndrome is a chromosomal anomaly caused by an error in cell division that results in the presence of an additional third chromosome 21 or “trisomy 21.” This extra genetic material results in the physical and learning characteristics associated with Down syndrome. Down syndrome is one of the most common known causes of intellectual disability.
Down Syndrome is a lifelong condition but with the right support, those with the condition can be supported to live happy and independent lives.
To find out more about Down Syndrome visit Down Syndrome Ireland’s website here.
What is diagnostic overshadowing?
Diagnostic overshadowing describes how when an individual has one diagnosis, any difficulties or challenges they experience is said to be caused by that diagnosis. Diagnostic overshadowing means that an individual might be experiencing a difficulty caused by another condition but will not receive that diagnosis and therefore not receive the support they require for that diagnosis.