Autism is known for having a ton of co-occurring conditions that can go along with it, many of which are significantly more common in autistic people. For example, 80% of autistic people have an anxiety disorder. 30% of autistic people have some sort of seizure disorder. I don’t have specific data on these next points, but ADD/ADHD and OCD seem to be significantly more common in autistic people. 99+% of autistic people meet the requirements for Sensory Processing Disorder, though this usually isn’t given as a separate diagnosis because the criteria for ASD tends to cover this without need for an additional diagnosis. Synesthesia is roughly 80% more common in autistic people. (though this one isn’t necessarily bad!). Dyspraxia, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and alexithemia are also much more common in autistic people.
As for me, I have an anxiety disorder, some fine-motor skill dyspraxia, and I probably meet the criteria for ADHD even though I’ve never been officially diagnosed with it. I’m also a synesthete (meaning I process some senses as other senses, for example, I can literally feel some sounds).
The important thing to remember with all of these things, however, is that all of these conditions are not autism in themselves. These are co-occurring conditions, and as such should not be lumped together as part of autism. I say this, because doing this is incredibly common, not just for the conditions I’ve listed above, but for other things as well. The following is a list of symptoms that are not autism. However, so often I see people lumping these together as part of autism:
- Digestive Issues
- Joint Pain
If your autistic child has any of these symptoms, please take them to a real doctor. These, and many other, conditions are not autism. Do not list them as autism symptoms. Do not assume that one of these issues “must just be autism.” They are not, and these could indicate a serious health problem. They require a separate diagnosis, separate consultations, and separate treatment, if necessary.
This is important, as if you make the assumption that these things “must just be autism” and not go to a qualified health professional, you could be seriously putting your child at risk. This happens so incredibly often, and it can be incredibly dangerous. Autism Speaks, an organization that is loathed by the autistic community for dozens of reasons, lists (or at least used to list) both seizures and GI issues as autism “symptoms.” So often you’ll see parents of autistic children talking about conditions like the ones I have listed above as if they’re part of that child’s autism. Some, in an attempt to seek pity or attention, use these as examples of how their child is “more autistic than thou.” In any case, they’re conflating conditions that are not autism, but may co-occur in their autistic child, with autism. This of course not only spreads general disinformation, but can also have serious consequences for many people.
You see, about two weeks ago I posted a shortened version of essentially this same thing on the Facebook group “Autism Inclusivity,” which is a group where parents of autistic children can ask autistic people for help and advice for things concerning autism. It’s a pretty cool place actually. Anyway, when I made this post I was taken aback by how many people responded with stories of how doctors themselves had written off the medical issues of either themselves or their children because they were autistic!
Parents told stories of how they took their autistic child to their pediatrician for a GI issue or allergen issue only to have their doctor tell them something to the degree of “yes, these things are common in autistic people/common signs of autism,” and then give them a referral for ABA therapy. Or how they’ve had to travel from specialist to specialist in order to find a doctor who’d treat their child’s medical problem as something separate from autism. Another mother commented about how they’ve often had to switch doctors because they dismissed signs of pain and discomfort in her son to simply being non-verbal autistic rather than actually being in pain from a medical issues. Finally, there was a response from an autistic person telling about how often her legitimate mental health issues are written off as just being part of her autism.
I mean, these people are doctors, shouldn’t they know better? Apparently not, and I believe it’s the lumping together of autism and co-occurring conditions that’s causing these problems. A select small few of the things I’ve mentioned above actually are more common in autistic people (we’re something like eight times more likely to have a seizure disorder). A few others aren’t even more common in autistic people or related to autism in any way, so I’m not sure why people make them out to be autism symptoms. Maybe it’s because people have a tendency to make every problem their child has part of their autism diagnosis. I’m not sure. Either way, it is doing and has done serious damage to the ability of autistic people to seek health care. Disinformation is far more dangerous than ignorance, especially in a case like this.
So, I ask you all that you speak out against people who make co-occurring conditions out to be part of autism. They are not part of autism, and conflating them with autism has serious negative consequences. If you have conflated autism and other conditions in the past, I ask that you please stop doing so. You may certainly acknowledge that your child has other medical problems, but absolutely under no circumstances should you lump them together with autism. This sort of thinking can be incredibly dangerous under the right circumstances, so it’s far past time that we stop.