ADHD and Aspergers Syndrome
For a concerned parent, coming to terms with the fact that something is wrong with a child is traumatic; what can be even more concerning is hearing a wide range of illnesses mentioned by health professionals during diagnosis, from schizophrenia to autism. When trying to find a medical reason for a child's bad behaviour or lack of progress at school, there are many conditions that must be ruled out.
Asperger SyndromeAsperger Syndrome is one of the Autistic Spectrum Disorders, and is one of the key medical conditions that a health professional needs to eliminate during diagnosis of ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Autism is a growing epidemic throughout the western world, and the number of children diagnosed with some form of autism has risen to approximately one in 150 children within the last few years. There are many forms of autism, and not all of them are severe; Asperger syndrome is a milder version of autism, and it is characterised by its effects on a child's educational development and their ability to socially interact and communicate with others. Like attention deficit disorder, Asperger's is a very treatable condition which needs early identification so that the right therapies and teaching methods can be adopted at home and at school.
Similarities Between Aspergers and ADHDThe symptoms of Asperger syndrome are remarkably similar to those shown in attention deficit disorder. Attention deficit disorder manifests itself as hyperactivity-impulsiveness, or an inability to pay attention, or a combination of both these effects. In the case of ADHD the ability of a child to form and maintain friendships may be damaged, resulting in a lonely and bewildered child with a low self esteem; additionally, the child will experience detrimental effects on their educational and social development. Both Aspergers and attention deficit disorder occurs four times as often in boys as girls.
However, despite the similarities in symptoms, the two conditions are very different. As a result, a misdiagnosis of ADHD in Asperger syndrome is relatively common, and can lead to inappropriate treatment and therapies being recommended. In one study of 36 children with Aspergers syndrome, 92% of children were initially misdiagnosed with some other problem, the most frequent of which was ADHD.
When the symptoms of each condition are compared it is easy to see how a misdiagnosis can happen, especially as not all symptoms or traits will be shown in affected child.
Aspergers Similarities to Attention Deficit DisorderChildren with Aspergers and ADHD are both likely to:-
- Have difficulties mixing with other children
- Show no real fear of danger
- Be prone to tantrums and become easily distressed
- Be either hyperactive or extremely slow or lethargic
- Avoid eye contact
- Be very intelligent and have a high IQ
- Be hard to diagnose when very young
- Show problems with communication and social interaction
- Have deficiencies in coordination and fine motor skills
- Act impulsively
- Have very poor handwriting
- Show symptoms of anxiety
- Appear not to listen, even when spoken to directly
ADHD DifferencesChildren with attention hyperactivity deficit disorders are more likely to:-
- Be unable to talk or play quietly
- Be disruptive with talk or activities, frequently interrupting others
- Have difficulty waiting their turn
- Frequently makes mistakes in schoolwork by not paying attention to detail
- Be aware of their bad behaviour, but appear unable to control it
Asperger's DifferencesA child with Asperger's may:-
- Find it hard to respond emotionally to a situation
- Focus so hard on a single activity of interest that they completely lose awareness of everything else around them
- Finds it difficult to understand the difference between good or bad behaviour
- Be prone to frequent repetitive behaviour
- Be unwilling to communicate verbally
- Be unlikely to engage in imaginative play, or where this is shown, play may be restricted to only one or two rigid patterns
Whilst scientists believe that the same area of the brain is affected in both Asperger's syndrome and ADHD, the underlying causes of the problems and subsequent treatments will differ. For example, treatment of Asperger's syndrome with Ritalin or methyphenidate is unlikely to produce any benefit, but drug therapy in an ADHD child may produce marked improvements in symptoms and behaviours.
Because securing the right diagnosis is essential for the right therapy to be given to a child, health professionals may need to reconsider a diagnosis of ADHD if a child is not responding to ADHD drug therapy, and when there are some distinctive Asperger's traits demonstrated by a child.