It is hard enough to understand and cope with autism. When your child has other conditions comorbid with the autism, it can both greatly increase the challenges you face in managing your child, and muddy the waters for understanding autism in the first place. Many of the controversial claims and treatments for autism, appear to stem from confusing together autism with those other conditions.
For example, some autistic people also have mental retardation. Yet how many times have you had to explain to people that being autistic doesn’t mean you’re mentally retarded? (You see the same attribution error in regards to genius; some autistic people turn out to be geniuses, leading to unfounded claims that every autistic person is actually of well above average intelligence, a claim I still often see on parenting forums and have written about previously.)
Sometimes people mix together the fact that their own child has allergies or sensitivities to certain foods, with the fact that their child has autism, and go on to claim that every autistic child would benefit from a similar change in diet (even when you point out that your own autistic child has been tested for such food sensitivities and does not have them).
Quite predictably, the list of conditions and problems that co-occur with autism, looks endless (though some conditions are not meant to be co-diagnosed with autism, such as ADHD, although this may change in the future). Some co-conditions are common (such as seizures), and some comparatively rare (such as Tourette Syndrome). For each of those variations, you may need to make adjustments to therapies and medications. Though from my own reading thus far on the topic, it would appear that autism is considered the “dominant condition”: It’s hard to treat other conditions if you don’t take into account the autism, and the autism so widely affects a child that it can often hide or disguise other conditions. That is not necessarily a problem though, if the therapies already in place to improve autism, also address the other complications.
A good developmental pediatrician, will do their best to figure out every condition affecting your child, by a range of tools (including blood tests and extensive questioning and observations). This is one of the reasons it is so important to not simply self-diagnose or diagnose your child without professional guidance. It can be hard to tell the difference between autism and other conditions, let alone between certain common aspects of autism and similar behaviours that are independent conditions (for example, is your autistic child obsessing, or do the have obssessive-compulsive disorder). In turn, that understanding can affect whether you should try to eliminate, modify or ignore various behaviours.
Being conscious of this problem of figuring out what – if anything – is comorbid with your child’s autism, helps to untease many of the otherwise avoidable confusions and disagreements in the autism community. It’s part of why we have to be so careful about moving from the statement “my child improves on this treatment” to “all autistic children will improve with this treatment.” For all the anecdotes, for all the studies, we must first and foremost always respond to the child in front of us. Those are good starting points (obviously studies rank above anecdote), but we must be ready to observe the results these approaches have on our own children, and respond accordingly. (For those of you wondering how you are meant to measure the impact of various treatments on your autistic child, I’d point you in the direction of ATEC as a great option.)
I’d be interested to hear about if your child has a diagnosis of “autism and…”, and how this has impacted (if at all) on the therapies or medications you use with your child.