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New Study Suggests Very Young Children Diagnosed as ADHD May Have Autism

An ADHD diagnosis in very young children could mask something far more serious: autism.


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There's a new study out from a doctor at Boston's Children's Hospital that suggests very young children who have symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may actually be struggling with autism.

Dr. Amir Miodovnik and his team looked at data for more than 1,500 autistic kids who were part of the 2011-2012 National Survey on Children’s Health. Their findings suggest that  the ADHD label may overshadow or hide the fact that they have autism, delaying its diagnosis by as long as three years, according to the research published online in the journal Pediatrics. That can significantly affect the child’s prognosis, says Miodovnik, a developmental pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.

"It's been shown the earlier that you implement these therapies for autism, the better children do in terms of outcomes," Miodovnik told HealthDay. "Three years is a significant amount of time for the kids to not be receiving therapy."

Autism and ADHD have some symptoms in common, including impulsiveness, hyperactivity and inattentiveness. Parents were asked if their children had been diagnosed with ADHD or autism and at what ages. Almost 81 percent of kids first told they had ADHD were identified as autistic after age 6, and more than 2 out of 5 labeled as both ADHD and autistic got the ADHD diagnosis first. Those initially ID’d as ADHD were 17 times more likely to be diagnosed as autistic after age 6 than those with just an autism diagnosis. About 43 percent of the children involved in the research had both conditions.

The study authors theorize that doctors are identifying children as ADHD too early. They suggest parents of kids under 5 years old who have been diagnosed with the condition should see a developmental pediatrician to make sure they aren’t actually autistic.

More Like This
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Autism: Studies Look at Babies and Toddlers for Earlier Diagnosis
Preschoolers with ADHD Have ‘Different’ Brains

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