When attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) co-occur, it can be difficult to identify the best method of treatment for the individual and overlapping symptoms that may occur. Medication Is often a frontline approach to ADHD and those with ASD for managing symptoms. However, there are other non-pharmaceutical approaches to increase functioning and decrease symptoms for those who struggle with a dual diagnosis of ASD and ADHD.
Educational and Occupational Supports
Following a dual diagnosis of ADHD and ASD, the intervention team should establish support for helping the individual to function in an education or work environment. This is for after-use assessments like (ADHD-2) Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Test for ADHD and (CARS™2) Childhood Autism Rating Scale for ASD.
Psychoeducation should be a lifelong process to support changing needs over time. Members of the psychoeducation intervention team can assist with the following:
- co-occurring health conditions
- community support services and resources
- common stress triggers
- symptoms and other difficulties
- treatment options
With the diagnosis of a school-aged patient, a team can create interventions to improve functionality in an educational setting. Typical supports include:
- allied professionals such as occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists
- anxiety supports
- classroom environment adjustments to reduce stimuli
- health education to prevent substance abuse, pregnancy, and STIs
- rewards and positive behavior reinforcement
- Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) to identify and implement health and educational accommodations
- work on adaptive skills
- small group environments
- visual supports, including agendas and graphic organizers
Transition Period Support
Transition periods, including moving from one school level to another, require particular attention for individuals with ADHD and ASD. Support in the following areas is beneficial:
- preparing for work demands in partnership with occupational therapists and career educators
- college-level educational support
- financial coaching
- support with job applications, interviews, and onboarding
- Assistance with self-advocacy in a career environment, including the development of organizational, time management, and dispute resolution skills
Mental Health Supports
Research shows that autistic individuals with ADHD are twice as likely to experience anxiety as autistic individuals without ADHD. Intervention plans for co-occurring ASD and ADHD typically include a variety of mental health supports to help manage anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) assists in recognizing inaccurate or unhealthy thoughts and behaviors and learning to replace them with more helpful and realistic thought patterns.
Mindfulness therapies focus on becoming fully present and aware of one’s current body, environment, thoughts, and feelings which helps improve regulation and awareness of emotions and reduce depression and anxiety in those with autism and ADHD.
ASD and ADHD can disrupt sleep patterns, which can worsen depression and anxiety, however, the implementation of behavioral interventions that address these problems can alleviate symptoms.
ADHD and ASD affect the entire family. Providing resources for all family members can significantly improve their quality of life. Effective family mental health interventions include:
- anger management
- behavior management
- social support networks
- stress management techniques
- problem-solving skills
- psychoeducational training
- advocacy resources and treatment programs
For more information about the assessment and treatment of co-occurring ADHD and ASD, check out the resources available at WPS.