Ages and Stages, Speech & Language

Down syndrome and Autism: Where do we begin?

aamIn honor of National Autism Awareness Month I’m starting a mini-series on what professionals call dual-diagnosis or a child with both Down syndrome and autism. There are some major differences between the two, but surprisingly – many overlaps. I am not an autism specialist, but have many colleagues who are. We’ll be gleaning from their expertise over the next two weeks.

The Million Dollar Question: How do I know if my child with Down syndrome has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

If only I could answer that in one blog post! Dr. George Capone authored a well-written brief for the National Down Syndrome Society on Dual Diagnosis.  First, you can’t tell a child has ASD just by looking at them. We’ll talk about how to diagnose ASD in an upcoming post. ASD by definition is a complex disorder that affecting social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and includes repetitive behaviors. Like Down syndrome, ASD may be associated with intellectual disability (ID).

While we know there is a difference between Autism and severe cognitive impairment, it is still very difficult to tease out a ASD versus a child with significant ID. This is a very common discussion even among highly trained teams. This is why it is important for families to gain insight from specialists in developmental and behavioral pediatrics. Pediatricians who specialize in childhood disorders like Down syndrome, ASD, attention and hyperactivity disorders, etc. are able to ask questions that tease out ASD from other developmental disorders.

Resource: Down syndrome and ASD (2009)

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