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Autism and ADHD

Posted by Andy Shih, Ph.D., vice president of scientific affairs for Autism Speaks

As researchers and parents, we’ve long known that autism often travels with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). What we haven’t known before is why that is. Also, few studies have examined how ADHD affects the quality of life of those with autism.

In the past month, two studies have come together to help connect our understanding of autism with behavioral issues such as hyperactivity and attention deficit. The first study looked at gene changes in ADHD and autism. The second looked at how frequently parents see the symptoms of ADHD in their children and how seriously these symptoms affect their children’s daily functioning and quality of life.

The upshot of the first study is that the genetic changes seen in children with ADHD often involve the same genes that are associated with autism. This finding helps explain why children with autism often have ADHD symptoms. In other words, if these disorders share a genetic risk factor, it’s logical that they often occur in the same individuals. Genetic insights, in turn, can help scientists understand underlying causes and, so, may improve how we diagnose and treat these issues.

The second study, described in our science news section, helps clarify both how commonly children on the autism spectrum are affected by ADHD symptoms and documents how this affects their daily function and quality of life. Perhaps the most notable observation was that, even though over half of the children in the study had ADHD symptoms that worsened both daily function and quality of life, only about 1 in 10 was receiving medication to relieve such symptoms.

Clearly, we need more research on whether standard ADHD medications benefit children struggling with both autism and hyperactivity and attention deficits. However, studies have long shown that these medications improve the quality of life of many children with ADHD alone. Autism specialists such as Dan Coury, M.D., medical director of Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN), recommend that parents discuss with their child’s physician whether a trial of such medications could be of benefit. (Dr. Coury co-authored the second study.)

On a deeper level, this research raises a question: Why is it, given the same genetic changes, some children develop autism alone, some develop autism and ADHD symptoms, and some develop neither—or something completely different?

I and other geneticists have seen how a given genetic change can alter normal development in various ways—if it does so at all. We have good evidence, for example, that outside influences affect how and whether autism develops in those who are genetically predisposed to it. These influences include a variety of stresses and exposures during critical periods of brain development—particularly in the womb and around the time of birth.

Still, by better understanding how altered genes produce symptoms—be they hyperactivity or social difficulties—we gain important insights into how to develop treatments that can improve the daily function and quality of life of those affected.

Ultimately there’s no substitute for working with your child’s physician and behavioral specialist to address your child’s behavioral challenges and needs within the context of your goals and values. To this end, the specialists at Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network have developed a medication decision aid—“Should My Child Take Medicine for Challenging Behavior?”—available for free download on our website. Please let us know what you think.

  1. October 4, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Terrible how you continue to spin the genetic aspect. Ignoring the toxic contribution. And of course a little plug for pharma meds without even mentioning dietary changes that help tremendously.
    Autism Speaks should shut up!!!

    • EDUCATED mother of aspie
      October 4, 2011 at 11:06 am

      No, what’s terrible, David’s Autism-Dad is that you leave a comment like you did saying that Autism Speaks should shut up. You CLEARLY have no clue as to how many people Autism Speaks has helped tremendously – always searching for answers, treatments and improvements. Your closed mindedness and insensitivity is pathetic. Just how much info in one article would you prefer? The article was about the relation between ASD & ADHD, not about dietary changes. If you would like to read about that topic, Autism Speaks has PLENTY of articles and info about that particular topic. YOU should learn some tact and manners. It is the ignorance and closed-mindedness of people like you who give people a bad name. Shame on you.

      • misty
        October 4, 2011 at 2:15 pm

        I agree with you Educated mother of aspie. I have noticed several times now that when Autism Speaks posts , David’s Autism-Daddy is very combative regardless of the topic. DA-D If you have a problem with Autism Speaks, perhaps, you should not read what they post. While you have every right to express your opinions regarding what you think causes autism, I prefer to read scientifically based data so I can draw my own conclusions instead of relying on propaganda and opinion. I understand that you are perhaps protecting your own self-worth by dismissing a genetic component but it is, in my opinion, counterproductive to constantly spread negativity when all people really want and need is a little ray of sunshine and a little bit of hope.

      • Mrs Montgomery
        October 4, 2011 at 4:39 pm

        HERE HERE EDUCATED Mother of Aspie Please like this should get their head out of the sand and really have a good look around them the world doesn’t revolve around them. And that person they know who has Autism needs them NOW……or risk loosing them forever….take it from me it happens…from experience CUT A Long story short Ex has head in sand all my son’s life saying leave him he will be fine and now he has lost the wonderful person I call my son. my son is now 17 and has had nothing to do with his father in 4 years by his own choice.. WAKE UP TO YOURSELF……

      • Kathleen Ramstrom
        October 4, 2011 at 9:28 pm

        Autism Speaks helped me tremendously when we were told our son had Autism at Dartmouth Medical in Hanover NH. It’s what they referred us to – and we asked the doctor point blank if there was dietary link and he said quote – it’s inconclusive = I think food in general affects all of us – we are all intolerant of the processed foods and should eat roots and fruits and whole foods – not just autistic kids – It doesn’t matter with my son – if he feels secure and happy with plenty of rest and live – he is a wonderful little 8 year old boy …….

    • jasper
      October 4, 2011 at 11:14 am

      i totally agree

      • jasper
        October 4, 2011 at 11:16 am

        i agree with davids autism daddy and not with educated mother of aspie

    • Mary Lou (a worried educator)
      October 4, 2011 at 2:32 pm

      ADHD is a made up ‘disease’. There is simply no scientific proof that this exists, so isn’t ODD and EOBD~so for me to read this is surprising and worrisome. Please read THE DISEASING OF AMERICA”S CHILDREN. I agree with what David’s Autism-Daddy says when he says that this site is contributing to pharma meds, by not mentioning about dietary changes and environmental contributions to autism as a whole. Every article about autism should be encouraging parents to seek alternate ways to help children afflicted with autism.

      • October 5, 2011 at 8:03 am

        Mary Lou (a worried educator) I am worried that you call yourself an educator. My 18 year old son is diagnosed ADHD since the age of 7. While I agree that is is an over used and convinient excuse for disciplin it is also very real. When a child cannot control his body and is in perpetual motion even while sleeping and hates himself because he is always getting negative notes from educator’s (like you I am sure), has such a positive reaction from getting the right medication for the disease than you HAVE to look at the child as an idividual!!!! My son was later diagnosed with ASP and while he still faces the challanges of an overwhelming world and social anxiety, he is an amazing young man who performs stand up comedy and uses that as a positive outlet for his daily challanges. I cannot imagin how low his self esteem would be without the ADHD diagnosis and the counseling and medications. I work on a daily basis with children on the Specturm and I can tell you from real life experience that medications in addition to diet is what gets these childen through each and every challanging day.

    • Jennifer
      October 4, 2011 at 4:15 pm

      . I’m wondering where you got your MD? I’m not say toxins don’t contribute they might, not enough research has been done on the matter & meds do help some children I know they helped mine. Dietary changes also help some but they didn’t do anything for my son. My point is what works for one child doesn’t always work for another and 100 percent of the people on Autism Speaks are all looking for the same thing… INFORMATION. We are all searching for answers, even you or you wouldn’t be on here, Autism Speaks is also looking for answers and I think with Autism growing at the rate that is we should all be thankful for what they are trying to accomplish.

    • October 4, 2011 at 5:05 pm

      Yes. I agree with Educated mother of Aspie that ignorant statements like David’s Autism-Dad does nothing but offer hostility to the discussion. Such a shame! Thank you Autism speaks for being the trailblazers at getting Autism the recognition and importance that it needs to have.

    • October 5, 2011 at 8:23 am

      You are entitled to you opinions however this is probably not the forum for you.

  2. RM Thees
    October 4, 2011 at 9:34 am

    What about Autism and epilepsy?

    • October 4, 2011 at 10:09 am

      Or my poor little girl who hit the jackpot and has all three, HFA, ADHD and Epilepsy?

  3. October 4, 2011 at 9:37 am

    My son, who has high functioning autism, has recently begun taking ADHD meds (along with Risperdol and Clondine which he was already taking) and there have been vast improvements! Where we could barely get him to do work in class before, let alone pass, he is now doing so well that his lowest grade is a C. This after last year’s highest grade being a C and many of them in the F range.
    I have never been a huge proponent for medication children, but I am changing my mind quickly as I see the huge difference in my own child. He is gaining more confidence as he is able to focus and see the improvements for himself. That is an amazing thing!

    • October 4, 2011 at 9:38 am

      for medicating children that is… :)

      • Traci Semp
        October 4, 2011 at 10:06 am

        what kind of meds did you put him on for ADHD?

    • EDUCATED mother of aspie
      October 4, 2011 at 11:19 am

      My son has Asperger’s. Autism diagnosis came at age 2, then more specifically, Asperger’s, after about a year or so. He has always earned straight A’s, been on high honor roll since he started school, and yet he always had difficulty staying focused and on task. During homework, he needed a lot of reminders and guidance so that he stayed on task, otherwise an assignment that would typically take 30 minutes would end up turning into a 2-3 hour painstaking ordeal. Depression/OCD and ADHD diagnoses came at age 11 and he was put on prozac and concerta. VAST improvements. I no longer have to supervise the homework because he comes home, does it himself without any reminders, and I’m very proud to say he is still on the high honor roll in 7th grade. I never thought I’d see the day when my child was taking such medications, but I’m pleased to report they are well worth it because HE feels so much better, and that’s the most important thing to remember.

      Glad your son is doing well too. Best of luck to you all.

      • October 4, 2011 at 2:13 pm

        i just found out my son has autism. he was educational testing through the school discrict and now they want me to take him to the doctor and have him medcaly dianosed they are thinking he has aspergers sydrome. what i wanna know is it herdorty. he is 2 and a half and has maybe 5 understandable words what can i do to help him someone please help me

    • October 5, 2011 at 8:29 am

      It has to be the greatest feeling as a mother to see your child who has struggled in school turn a corner and excel!!!! I KNOW BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN THERE!! My own son, since getting on the right meds is now an A-B student, is playing piano like he has taken lessons his whole life (only 1 year through is HS) and is performing Stand Up comedy. We spent so many years with trial and error going through the list of medications and Vyvanse seems to be the answer for my son. They replaced the Bi-polar diagnosis with ASP and now we are seeing his true potential and personality!! YAY!!!!!! Christine M Butler never give up.

  4. Nikki Thames
    October 4, 2011 at 9:42 am

    My son is 15 and was diagnosed with autism and ADHD when he was 2 1/2. Luckily his psychiatrist has medicated him for both disorders. He takes Risperdal and Tenex. We tried Intuniv a few months ago and that was a disaster! His thoughts were so unorganized and he got very frustrated with himself and we didn’t know what to do with him! He is now back on the Tenex and is doing well. It’s amazing how 1mg, twice a day can help so much!

  5. October 4, 2011 at 9:58 am

    My youngest son and I both have Asperger’s Syndrome. I didn’t realize that I had it until learning more about his. He also has severe ADHD which he takes Vyvanse for. We see a HUGE difference when he is off his meds and when he is on. They definitely seem to help his Aspie symptoms as well.

  6. Lisa
    October 4, 2011 at 10:03 am

    My 7 year old son is PDD-NOS and very high functioning. Our biggest challenge was to get him to focus in class. Academically he is 4 grades above his level but we could not get him to complete work or stay on task. Six months ago the doctor diagnosed him with a type of ADHD and started low doses of medication. I was against “drugging my kid” at first but then we saw the results. His teachers were astonished at the difference. He would walk into class and begin his work without being told. He is earning straight A’s now and will be moved into a mainstream classroom later this year. He still has some social behaviors that we are dealing that may never completely go away. However my son can now go to a regular classroom and will be very successful in the future.

    • Dot
      October 6, 2011 at 2:02 pm

      I was curious what medications your son is taking.

  7. Nikki York
    October 4, 2011 at 10:23 am

    I have to agree. I was completely against ADHD meds as well. However, the difference between my child’s impulsivity and focusing while on the ADHD meds is like the difference between night and day.

  8. misty
    October 4, 2011 at 10:42 am

    My son has a dual diagnosis of ASD and ADHD. He has been on ADHD medication since he was six years old and he is now 15. I can see a huge difference in his ability to remain on task, focus his attention, and quiet his body when he is taking his medication. He is on a medication that is not a stimulant as that was a huge concern because initially his doctors put him on stimulant based medications. It was a horrible sight to witness the ill effects and how his mood was affected when he was on those medications but since switching to the non-stimulant based medication he no longer is a “walking zombie” and seems to function better all the way around. Thank you for sharing the studies so that I can have a better understanding about the disorders, how they relate to each other, and how I can help him lead a better life.

  9. Jen
    October 4, 2011 at 10:53 am

    While I am not the biggest supporter of medication…My autistic/ADHD/bipolar/celiac daughter suffers all of the major side effects of the drugs she has to take and can’t be taken off of because that may cause brain damage to go with everything else…I will say it was a last resort for my high functioning PDD(NOS) son. We tried the diets, alternative therapies…etc. He now is functioning much better. I think everything needs to be looked at and an informed choice is the one to make.

  10. Charly
    October 4, 2011 at 10:54 am

    My 18 yr old was diagnosed with severe ADHD when he was 3 1/2 yr old. He has been on Ritalin, Concerta & Strattera and they have all worked for him. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was 7 and continued to be be on ADHD meds. Through the years his psyc dr gave him different combinations of medication, always keeping the ADHD meds constant and he has done great. He just graduated from HS and is in college and continues to take a combination of Strattera & Concerta (which BTW, help decrease his Tourrette’s ticks). Like some others have mention, even HE recognizes how different he acts when he’s off meds so he is very diligent at making sure he takes it every day before he heads to school.

  11. mom of 2 hfa boys
    October 4, 2011 at 11:33 am

    I think it’s important to note many kids on the spectrum have paradoxical reactions to drugs. I have a friend who’s HFA kid has been in the hospital for a month now because he went nuts on very low doses of common drugs used for ADHD treatment when his main problem was anxiety.

  12. Tina Rhodes
    October 4, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    I have my son who is High functioning and he is on neuroscience supplements along with a gluten/Diet free diet.I have seen an incredible difference in his behavior.We didn’t want to do the meds but I am so glad they work for some people.Is anyone else on this diet or supplements?

  13. October 4, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    My son is 4 and has been diagnosed with Moderate autism and ADHD. He was taking Abilify and Clonidine and the doc added Intuniv. The combo worked great for a month or two, then he reverted back to the behavior issues and major meltdowns. The doc tried Risperdol and it was horrible! My son lost total control. So, for the past month he has taken only 3mg Abilify and .1 Clonidine . We just upped his Abilify to 4 and now I have my son back. He has regained his awesome personality, his focus and has less behavior issues and meltdowns. I will be keeping him off ADHD meds for now. They work great for some, and not at all for others. The medication game is trial and error with these kids and can get very frustrating. You just gotta stick to your guns, breathe deep and keep trying until you find what works. Special diets never worked for us, so though I was worried, I opted to try meds. I’m glad I did.

  14. October 4, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    My daughter was diagnosed at age 5 with ADHD. We have been treating her for that since. At age 10 they diagnosed her with Asperger’s Syndrome along with ADHD, She is still on medication for ADHD and it is amazing how much they help her. We are playing catch up on the Asperger’s part. She is now 12 and it is the most challenging time of her life. She is in the Honor’s classes at school and never tests lower than a B on any given subject. She just cannot complete a task in a time frame that they like. If she were not medicated she would be lost in their system, I promise you that!

  15. annieo
    October 4, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    This explains a lot in my kids. I’ve also seen it in my husband, his father, his uncles and probably his paternal grandfather, who had a hard time running the family business and died broke. So I suspect a genetic component there.

  16. Barb Duffy
    October 4, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    Sooo amazing to read all the responses….I have a daughter who has ADHD and Dyslexia…..I also did NOT want to medicate my daughter….but, is it FAIR to have so much intelligence and NOT be able to get it down on paper???? I told her she would be fine in LIFE but school was always going to be difficult….??? We went through several meds…until we found one that did not take away her amazing personality! She is now 12 years old and has a choice to take meds or not…at this time …she does not. We are doing the Barton System to help her learn to deal with the problems of Dyslexia…but in KY,…she would NOT recieve special help or instruction IF it WEREN’T for the ADHD diagnosis…HOW many children are out there that don’t recieve ANY assistance ( IEP) b/c they don’t have the ADHD diagnosis? INFORMED is ALWAYS the BEST CHOICE and it IS a CHOICE!!!

  17. October 4, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Obviously, this is a heated topic. Mostly heated by peoples’ personal biases regarding the issues at play. I’d like to ask here that we all not behave like socially challenged ignorants when dealing with each other, first of all. It hurts my brain.

    I also want to ask that all of you remember that autism, aspergers (why didn’t they study aspergers?), and ADD/ADHD are all on a SPECTRUM. That means that each of your children or yourselves are going to behave differently, and respond differently to varying treatments. There is no single answer for all children on the spectrum.

    Finally, I don’t think there is any particular angle that’s always absolutely right or wrong in how to view the disorders on this spectrum, nor in how to treat them. Just like cancer treatments and results vary from patient to patient; some do better with medical-only. Some do better with only holistic treatments. Some respond best to (w)holism, which incorporates both, along with a healthy diet and exercise plan, when that’s possible.

    Please stop fighting with each other. Try to learn about each others’ points by using Google, asking questions of all the experts (not just your preconceived favorites), and realize that you’re probably all right; the only wrong here is in battle-axing each other which solves nothing and continues the suffering of your children, other loved ones, and yourselves.

  18. Katie Wright
    October 4, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    It concerns me that this, fairly obvious, overlap noted by this research = step 1 is to discuss med options.
    So many of ASD behaviors are identical to ADD, especially in kids. We need to treat underlying causes not just medicate symptom. Certainly sometimes Meds are essential to a % of kids, however, it is supposed to be Autism Treatment Network, not Autism Prescription Network.
    ADD symptoms like hyperactivity are often directly related to food dye consumption (FDA, 2011). These symptoms also overlap w/ overexposure to lead and mercury. I would hate to think of parents going to medication, all the while not knowing there is lead paint in their house or on their dishes. More than 1 or 2 servings of tuns fish a week can lead to consumption of excess mercury in kids= ADHD behaviors.
    These simple fixes are not going to work for every child but why on earth not advise ATN families to explore these painless, side effect free options PRE medication.
    I worry mainly about the overmedicated lower functioning non verbal kids like mine.
    They are often so over medicated.

  19. October 4, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    I have reviewed all 26 of the previous comments and I enjoyed reading every one of them. I hope that all on this site share my desire which is to identify the basic cause for these many different disorders and eliminate this epidemic. As a nutritionist I have found that many of these children are picky eaters and this alone suggests that malnutrition is a most likely cause. This is not to blame parents but as I have heard Dr. Phil point out in his discussions, responsibility and blame are quite different things. The parents do have a responsibility to not let their children fall out of a window or crawl onto the street, they share a responsibility to find ways to ensure that their child is consuming a diet that will adequately promote brain development—none of the medications or therapy sessions can or will provide for the several nutrients known to be lacking in those with autism or ADHD. While genetics has been the focus of many research projects I dare say that nutritional deficiencies are very likely the cause for genetic changes and genetic changes are simply the result of nutritional deficiencies.

    • misty
      October 4, 2011 at 6:42 pm

      While I am not negating nutritional factors, from my own experience with my son, he has never been a picky eater. We have monitored his diet and did not see any change in behavior and it did not change his developmental level. What has worked is early intervention, therapies (speech, OT, and social work), medication, profound patience, unconditional love, and a willingness to help him succeed in life. The fact that he was nonverbal until the age of seven, and now at fifteen won’t shut up (Praise God!!) is all the proof I need to know that we have done the right things…for him. Each child is different and as others have posted, what works for one child might not work for another. Nutrition alone or lack thereof is not the sole cause of autism and therapies and medication do work for some children. The key in my mind is doing all that you can and hopefully you find the right combination that will benefit the individual with ASD.

  20. Erica
    October 4, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was about 2 years old. The first two doctor’s just looked at me and told my mom yeah she has ADHD. My mom knew that I didn’t have ADHD and took me to see another doctor. The last doctor said to my mom that I didn’t have ADHD but there is something wrong. It was in the early 80’s at that time the doctor wanted my mom to put me in the hospital to so they could study me some more. But at that time my mom and dad where in the middle of putting oldest sister who also has special needs in a care home. My parents told the doctor no that they just could not put me in the hospital for some people to study me. Since I was not happy with the new changes that was happening at home. Today I’m 29 years old. I still having problems doing different things. I think I do have asperger’s syndrome. I don’t know if doctors can diagnose adults. It seems that they are only working on children where I’m living in California.

  21. sheela Woo
    October 4, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    PDD,ADHD son can not take stimulants without head shaking tics and vocal tics-clonodine makes him crazy-any ideas.Very distracted and extremly sensitive to meds.

  22. Caroline
    October 4, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    My son was recently diagnosed with Aspergers. As a parent and an educator, I can shocked at some of the narrow minded comments found in response to this article. Let us please remember that different people react differently to different methods of therapy (pharmaceutical or otherwise). I am willing to try everthing. Since my son is already taking the medication for ADHD, I am now working on the nutritional aspect to help mitigate some of the other symptoms from the ASD. Nutrition alone will not “cure” either of these conditions.

    • October 5, 2011 at 11:46 pm

      I would like to make a point that while nutrition may not cure autism good nutrition will cure all nutrient deficiencies. Let us not overlook the fact that many of the chronic disorders of the past were corrected or cured with the proper nutrients. This was true for spina bifida, scurvy, pellagra, rickets, etc. What evidence do we have that poor nutrition is not the primary cause? There certainly has not been very much research to disprove or confirm the strong tie that I have found between autism and nutrition. Additionally, there has been numerous findings in the literature of nutrient deficiencies among autistic children including vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and yes, cholesterol. My point is that we should cure all known nutrient deficiencies in these children and then we may find the picture is much clearer.

  23. Autism Mom
    October 5, 2011 at 8:16 am

    Logic states there is a Genetic Predisposition to Autism, however it is also clear that there is an Enviornmental Trigger. It’s just like Cancer, there is a genetic predisposition to certain cancers, and others, like melanoma can result from the environment (Sun Exposure). If we can find the Root of the disease, the branches or “the environment” can be altered. But we first have to determine the genetic cause.

  24. Steven
    October 5, 2011 at 10:42 am

    ADHD is such a cliche nowendays. Its lost its meaning because the label has been redefined one too many times. The current, non-PC definition is someone who is a bratty child whose parents aren’t disciplining their kids. And whose getting forgotten? The people who have autism who has to get squashed by the ADHD and Asperger community! They are like the middle child! The last thing I want is ADHD and ASD in the same breath.

    The label industry created by psychologists (junk doctors) is the most fraudulent industry with zero-accountability. Where’s the lawmakers when you really need them?

  25. October 6, 2011 at 12:42 am

    Be positive people!!!! You have enough to stress over and so do they! Remember: If you don’t have something nice to say….say nothing at all. Quit reading this blog if you don’t like it! It helps many and obviously many kids are helped in different ways. Some of which are mentioned on here. Go take your negativity out on someone who doesn’t have more serious problems to deal with than you!

  26. Dot
    October 6, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    I was curious what medications people have tried.

  27. Millie
    October 6, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    I have a son with ADHD, Aspergers, tourettes and OCD. How about we work together to find the root of the problem. We as parents educators and drs. need to get together. Why hasn’t the government taken a nationwide survey of people with Autism not just the young ones, all. Have any of you thought that maybe the rise in ADHD was really the pandemic it is today of Autism?? Please if we don’t stick together we will lose the battle. My son is 23y/o and was fine until my divorce from his Dad. He graduated with A nad B’s in HS. Got an associates degree but is having trouble to decide on his bachelors. We have upped his resperidol, but now I see the tourettes signs of ticking, clucking and touching everything while he circles over and over the entire apartment. I call him my forever evolving son. Once every three months he is at a different level of any of these diseases. Any suggestions??

  28. lyora
    October 9, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    ok well i have an adorable 14 year old girl cognitive delays/pdd/adhd/ under spectrum/ etc.. and im the one who is suffering worse than you can imagine because i second guess every decision i make with regards to her meds. i had her on atterol xr since she was 7 and i just took her off . the drug in my opinion ( do not forget a class A narcotic)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! was destroying her little by little……… in my heart i knew she had to come off.. i just knew . dont go asking yourself why. it was time to come off. a parent just knows. her little system i felt couldnt take it . so instead of her usual neurologist and md, i got a new shrink and he has her now on risperdone and zoloft…….. now that shes no longer a zombie and more human again she now has a whole other set of problems…. school massive disaster(dade county schools in miami are a disaste)r. im gonna be a on a major search for the right drug second guessing every single doctor i see. i can use sone feedback here i read above but need more info…… shes so cute. this life is breaking my heart and breaking my soul……………i bleed to help this child feel and act right……..xo

    • October 10, 2011 at 10:23 am

      Lyora, you aren’t alone! My son will turn 13 next month and we have had a lot of issues trying to get everything balanced for him. He is currently on Risperdal (Risperidone), Clonidine, fish oil pills, and just recently started taking Vyvanse for ADD/ADHD. My step daughter was on adderal years ago, and I don’t know too many people who like it, because of the zombie out of it feeling. I can tell you that the Vyvanse is working wonders for my son. He went from doing almost no school work and being a “D” and “F” student to getting “B” grades. His teachers called me immediately (2 days after he started) to tell me that whatever I was doing this time was working! He was a completely different kid for them, and he got his confidence back. He is not a zombie, he is very alert, and his sense of humor is back too. So, maybe it’s not that she needs to be taken off the meds completely, perhaps trying something new will help. I will warn you though, Vyvanse is new and there are no generics, so it is costly. After insurance I pay $40 a month for just that medicine. It is definitely worth it though. Two months ago, I didn’t think my son would make it through school. Now, I can see him enjoying learning again!

    • misty
      October 10, 2011 at 10:29 am

      It was the same for my son on adderall and ritlin. He has been on Strattera since he was 6 years old. He just turned 15. It has worked well. The only downside that I can see is it does suppress his appetite but he functions well and doesn’t walk around like a zombie like he did while on the other two. We also have him on Wellbutrin for anxiety and the combination seems to work. Good luck to you and your daughter. :)

  29. October 10, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Mr. Shih,

    I found your post exploring the connection of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism intriguing. What really struck me is the various ways that genetic changes can alter an individual. You sited one gripping study that was able to find de novo copy number variations (CNVs) in ADHD patients; further the study reinforced “evidence for the existence of common underlying susceptibility genes for ADHD, ASD, and other neuropsychiatric disorders.” It is impressive that research has been able to make such findings. However, as you stated in your post, where one specific genetic change may cause a child to develop autism as well as ADHD, the same genetic alteration can cause another child to develop simply autism or no disorder at all. I agree wholeheartedly that although recent research is making strides in the autism world, further research must be done in this field. There is no doubt that the more we learn about how significantly genetics impact normal development, the more we will be able to conduct vital research and develop treatments for autism spectrum disorders.

    Your post further investigates the ongoing nature vs. nurture debate. Although there have been studies that have found gene changes in ADHD and autism, as quoted in your post, you also mention that “outside influences affect how and whether autism develops in those who are genetically predisposed to it.” Do you believe that there is practical research to be done on this end of the topic? Perhaps it will be equally beneficial to have studies investigating what the environmental risk factors are for those genetically predisposed to autism. I am optimistic that the recent signing of the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act will aid revolutionary research in the field of autism.

  30. Kathy Silverstein
    October 11, 2011 at 4:21 am

    What a fascinating article! I do find genetics to be a very interesting area of study. I think that you are probably correct with your assessment that while both autism and add/adhd are located in the same genetic area, environmental influences may trigger which it develops into. Or maybe it’s just pure chance, like so many other things that involve genes. I am a 27 y/o with Asperger’s, but I am pretty sure I have ADD symptoms as well. Most of the people I know with AS do. I have never taken medication for these symptoms, however. I have considered it, but my doctor didn’t think stimulants were a good idea for me because of the “crash,” and I am nervous about taking Strattera, which is what she ultimately gave me a sample of, because I have a rather intense fear of side effects,and hate waiting months to see if something will work. I am on Celexa for anixety.
    I wish there were more companies in the US that would try to work around the social problems, anxiety, and hyperactive symptoms that people with AS often have, as employment is a struggle. I read about a company in Denmark that hires only autistic people – http://www.aspergerssociety.org/articles/59v.htm – if only we had more of those here. Then we could give people with AS and other conditions the sense of self worth they deserve.

  31. October 11, 2011 at 9:41 am

    My husband and I split up before our son was born in 1953. He left the city and I had no idea of his whereabouts so he never supported us.

    I continued to work until a couple of weeks before the birth. Once home, I had to wean the baby quickly, so I could return to work after a couple of weeks. (I paid my mother or a retired-nurse to look after him.)

    Howard, it quickly became apparent, was a noisy, awkward baby. He was slow in walking, slow in sitting up. Everything was slow — and fractious. When I wanted to get his hair cut, he refused to stay still, and the three of us would end up on the floor, me and the barber holding him down. He was hyperactive-plus and had no sense of danger. I had to chop up a play pen and nail the bars against the bedroom window because he would climb on to the sill and push hard against the glass. Once when I picked him up quickly to save him from danger he butted me and chipped my two front teeth (a favour, as it turned out, for they were buck teeth which the dentist then rounded off). At night I would lock us both in the bedroom, having awoken once to find him downstairs in his pyjamas and all the gas taps on. Another time when I was asleep he hit me with a toy metal bus to wake me up and I had to go to work with a black eye and a swollen, red nose.

    It took me two years to realise that Howard had learning difficulties. “Just one of those things,” the doctors said. One told me he was “a write-off”. Another advised, “Stop sacrificing yourself, put him in an institution and forget him.”, but having Howard adopted was an option I never considered. It seemed such a ridiculous suggestion, and I was sure I could work to support us.

    The stigma of being a divorcee with a child with learning difficulties was very strong, and we were regarded as less than second-class citizens. In those days, because of his hyperactivity, screams and tantrums, people thought he was a naughty child with a bad mother. In supermarkets he would go behind the counters and switch any switches on or off, or pull trays of goods to the floor. Could you blame the staff for threatening to ban us? When I took him to the beach he had to be watched all the time. He had a habit of plonking himself on girls’ tummies when they were sunbathing. And if the bus home ever deviated from the usual route he would try to jump off while the conductor and passengers would remark: “Why don’t you control that effing boy! Women like you shouldn’t be allowed to have children. You should be sterilised.” Even doctors did not seem to understand autism and no facilities or support was available. I came to believe that what people said must be true; sometimes I used to feel that people were stepping all over me with heavy boots, and that I was beaten down into the pavement.

    In those days there was no allowance for one child or for a handicapped child or lone parent. I managed to get enough cash to buy a very old, dilapidated house with no bathroom and an outside toilet because living in rented rooms meant complaints about Howard’s noisy tantrums which could go on for hours. It was cheap because of its condition and it took me ages to clean it up, get rid of the cockroaches, beetles and mice, but it was all I could afford at the time. . .

    In later years I became a full-time carer for three people, when my parents could no longer cope in their council flat and moved in with Howard and me. They stayed for 16 years, eventually dying within a month of each other in 1993. It seems cruel to say it, but we have never been so happy since. We cared for my parents well, but it was a relief when they were gone. Then, after a while, we were able to do what we wanted and to get an education and a life.

    Howard and I signed up for a computer course. I joined too because I felt he needed a helper to cope with his learning difficulties. I need not have worried. We both became hooked. We had each lost education in our youth — Howard because he was profoundly autistic and asthmatic and was refused admission to any school until he was 10 (when he finally learned to speak). I lost education because my school was destroyed by explosive incendiaries during the Second World War, and at 14 started work in a flour mill. We both gained admission to University and Howard graduated in computer science. Our life was transformed.

  32. John Scott Holman
    October 19, 2011 at 7:16 pm


    Thank you for this article (and for sitting down with Alex and I).

    My psychologist dropped my ADHD diagnosis when he diagnosed me with autistic disorder. However, I have all the symptoms of ADHD. Whether these symptoms are a result of my autism, or part of a co-morbid condition, is up to genetic research to sort out.

    My father has ADHD, yet many accompanying characteristics of Asperger’s. My sister has ADHD, yet also struggles with sensory issues. My mom is ADHD-PI. Dad is on Adderall. Mom and sister are on Vyvanse. I’m on Dexedrine.

    This is clearly a complicated genetic issue. ADHD is, indeed, an invention – it is a label developed to categorize a specific set of symptoms. If you do not think these symptoms effect people’s daily lives, I would suspect you don’t interact with people very often.

    ADHD, if not treated, can hold you back. Many talented and intelligent people do not fulfill their potential because they do not seek treatment.

    Is ADHD over diagnosed? Yes. Is it under diagnosed? Yes.

    Shame on those who would trivialialize and invalidate those who struggle with this condition.

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