understanding autism

Co-occurring conditions

Co-occurring conditions

People with autism may also be diagnosed with another co-occurring condition. Knowing what these conditions are can help you navigate the different assessments and interventions required.

Many people with autism have other conditions that impact their life called ‘co-occurring conditions.’ In fact, anywhere between 60 - 95% of autistic people are estimated to be living with medical or other conditions. 

Co-occurring conditions can be related to genetics and heritability, medical, developmental and mental health comorbidities. Some may be present from birth or a person’s early years, but many don’t present until adolescence or adulthood. These conditions may also come and go throughout a person’s life.

Understanding some of the common

co-occurring conditions

Mental health conditions
Cerebral Palsy

Identifying co-occurring conditions

Unfortunately, co-occurring conditions can be difficult to identify and address in autistic people for a variety of reasons:

Service limitations

An autistic person’s existing or local healthcare providers may not specialise in diagnosing or treating co-occurring conditions. For example, one clinician may have expertise in diagnosing autism, but they may not have awareness or experience in identifying gastrointestinal issues.

Social and communication challenges

An autistic person may not have the skills or ability to articulate their challenges and experiences with co-occurring conditions. For example, a non-verbal/non-speaking person may not be able to communicate that they are feeling depressed.  

Overlapping traits

When co-occurring conditions have shared traits, it’s common for one to be mistaken for the other and vice versa, often leading to misdiagnosis or no diagnosis at all. For example, an autistic person may also have ADHD, but may go undiagnosed due to the many overlapping traits between the two conditions. Or, a person may be diagnosed with just a language delay, when in fact, they also have autism.

Accessing the right support

It’s vital that autistic people with co-occurring conditions have access to support from both qualified and experienced professionals. To ensure this support is as comprehensive and efficient, a multidisciplinary team is essential. An effective multidisciplinary team should communicate and collaborate frequently to address challenges quickly and provide the most up-to-date support.

Some therapies and supports need to be tailored in order to suit the needs and experiences of autistic people. For example, there are now cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programs designed to support people on the autism spectrum. Investigate whether your healthcare provider has prior experience supporting people with autism, or where you can find a provider that offers autism-specific support.

When a child or adult is receiving an autism assessment, they should also be screened for co-occurring conditions, particularly those impacting their mental health. This enables that person to begin receiving support that addresses both their autism and other conditions sooner rather than later.

Many co-occurring conditions come and go or develop later in life. Autistic people should have access to regular health screenings to identify any new conditions that have emerged and adjust the support they are already receiving.

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