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Autisms commonalities with ADHD

 ASD - Autism Spectrum Disorders

For reasons yet unidentified, autism has become an epidemic in America over the last couple of decades. The number of children diagnosed with autism has risen from one in 2,000 to one in 150 today. There is good news though. Our program, Train the Brain to Pay Attention the Write Way, can help treat autism. Simply spend 15 minutes per day on our fun and easy program, and see the amazing behavioral changes!

There are various degrees of autism, so they are commonly called "autism spectrum disorders". They include Autism, Asperger's syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorders--Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) and high-functioning autism.  According to the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition Text Revision, 2000  (DSM-IV-TR), the symptoms affect children in three central areas: social interaction, communication and behavioral development.

Diane Kennedy, author of the The ADHD Autism Connection, advocates that there are distinct similarities between the symptoms of ADHD and autism. Both are developmental disorders, and they both share similar features and affect children in the same three central areas: communication, social interaction and behavior. While her journey began as an effort to help her sons, it became a mission to increase awareness about the commonalities between these two disorders. She had three children, and she was under the impression that each of them had ADHD. However, she found that her third son's diagnosis of ADHD with Oppositional Defiant Disorder was wrong.

She observed his delayed social and motor skills, plus extreme sensitivity to sensory stimuli, the same deficiences that autism has. He finally received a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome despite a very high IQ. After experiencing the turmoil of his misdiagnosis, she began a serious investigation over several years that entailed exploring ADHD research and talking to experts. While searching for a commonality of symptoms, she discovered a medical dichotomy exists in how the two condtions are diagnosed. She notes a recent study of thirty-nine children from six to eleven with Asperger's. By the time that diagnosis was made, 92% had carried other diagnoses or educational labels, the most frequent was ADHD.    

She quickly found that while ADHD research focused on the features of the disorder, autism research examined the disorder for root causes so that more effective treatments could be developed. Both were developmental disorders, and they both share similar features and affect children in the same three central areas: communication, social interaction and behavior. Yet each group of research approached its disorder differently. Kennedy maintains that this is where the confusion arises as the medical and educational professionals are not trained to recognize the similarities between the disorders.  Researchers and clinicians look for the differences between the two. 

Kennedy notes that most parents have a gut reaction that their child's development is not progressing as it should, but, because strong guidelines are used to diagnose autism, children with a milder form on the autism spectrum often fall through the cracks and fail to qualify for help. Ironically, autism often manifests itself as the child matures, when it presents extreme social and functional difficulties. She strongly urges parents to become more aware of what they should know -- ADHD and Asperger's are closely related disorders.

 Autistic Behavior

Researchers for both conditions view them as starting in the same biological place--a deficit in the executive functions in the frontal lobes. Kennedy found an unrecognized commonality in the symptoms. She found that both ADHD and autism research bears out a common set of behaviors and processes linked with impairments in the brain's executive functions. Both camps also share deficiencies in gross and fine motor skills.  However, she also learned that, despite the strong similarities in the symptoms between the two conditions, the medical community does not screen for autism when they diagnose ADHD, typically when the demands increase after a child enters school. As the diagnosis is made with strong input from parental and teachers' observations about behaviors, it provides a narrow perspective about behavioral issues. The only solution at that point is chemical and behavioral management. Unfortunately, neither can effectively change the brain for long term improvement.

A list of the behaviors common to autism and ADHD are below. 

Autism Behavioral Checklist

  • Difficulty mixing with other children;
  • No real fear of danger;
  • Tantrums: displays extreme distress for no apparent reason,
  • Inappropriate giggling or laughing,
  • May not want cuddling or act cuddly,
  • Noticeable physical overactivity or extreme underactivity;
  • Little or no eye contact,
  • Works impulsively;  often makes careless mistakes: work is sloppy,
  • Uneven gross/fine motor skills

ADHD Behavioral Checklist

  • Cannot talk or play quietly; disrupts others with talk or actions,
  • Difficult awaiting turn in games or activities, 
  • Engages in potentially dangerous activities,
  • Plays without normal caution or  consideration of consequences,
  • Severe temper tantrums,  
  • Interrupts, disrupts, talks and acts inappropriately,
  • When younger, difficulty accepting soothing or holding,
  • Always on the move, overactive, even during sleep,
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly,
  • Often does not give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in school work or other activities,
  • Uneven gross/fine motor skills. 

A common symptom between autism and ADHD is that both camps suffer from gross and fine motor skills as well as the impulsive driven behaviors. In some cases, the autism behaviors reveal a deficit in being able to respond emotionally.   

When there is a deficit in executive functions, it manifests itself in inattentiveness, distractability and impulsivity--three areas recognized on both the autism and ADHD checklist of behaviors. Drs. Don Cohen and Fred Volmar note in The Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders, that autism is considered a core deficit in the executive functions of the frontal lobes. Of those three functions, impulsivity, as graphic evidence of the life force, drives the other two issues. Impulse control, the major underlying influence on behavior, is driven by the limbic system, the emotional brain.

Cure for Autism

Capitalizing on the brain's neuroplasticity with regulated sensory stimulation can help resolve some of the major issues in autism and ADHD. The highly moldable young brain inherently responds to sensory stimulation. Using the powerful combination of movement and therapeutic music brings handwriting remediation to the forefront. The Scientific American, October, 2004 states that "Music engages many areas distributed throughout the brain, including those that are normally involved in other kinds of cognition....The bottom line is: The brain can be retrained to overcome learning disabilities, cognitive impairments, ADHD, etc. What we now know is that this is done over a vast network in the brain that encompasses many other minor and major networks." 

As an intentional process, handwriting, a product of the emotional brain, has a physiological/psychological link in the brain. Since it involves the hand, the neurological activity generated by multi-sensory movement influences individual psychology, i.e., impulse control. The action activates the brain with regulated  stimulation that develops impulse control over time while exerting a powerful influence on the frontal lobes' executive functions common to both autism and ADHD. Parents and teachers who have used the multi-sensory Train the Brain to Pay Attention the Write Way report children on the autism spectrum have made progress by "leaps and bounds." 

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