The Presence of Comorbid ADHD and Anxiety Symptoms in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Clinical Presentation and Predictors

Einat Avni, Esther Ben-Itzchak, Ditza A. Zachor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

High rates of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety symptoms have been documented in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and have been associated with social and adaptive impairments. The study examined the frequency of clinically elevated ADHD and anxiety symptoms in an ASD group in comparison to a non-clinical group, compared the clinical presentation in the ASD group with and without ADHD and anxiety, assessed which child and familial variables add to the severity of Inattention, Hyperactivity/Impulsivity (HI), and anxiety symptoms, and evaluated whether having clinically elevated ADHD and/or anxiety symptoms adds to the prediction of adaptive functioning in ASD. The study included 260 participants diagnosed with ASD (mean age: 7.5 ± 1.1), using standardized tests. The rate of clinically elevated ADHD and anxiety symptoms in ASD was 62.7 and 44.6%, respectively, and symptom severity was significantly greater than the non-clinical sample. The entire population was divided into four subgroups: ASD alone, ASD+ADHD, ASD+anxiety, ASD+ADHD+anxiety, based on the parental behavioral questionnaire. The ASD alone group showed less severe autism symptoms in comparison to the other groups. Having ASD+ADHD symptoms was associated with greater impairments in socialization adaptive skills. Only the group with ASD+ADHD+anxiety was associated with poorer daily living adaptive skills. Regression analyses for prediction of ADHD and anxiety symptoms revealed that being a female and having lower adaptive skills scores predicted higher Inattention severity; being older, having better cognition, and more severe Restrictive Repetitive Behavior symptoms predicted more severe HI symptoms; being older and having more severe social impairments predicted higher anxiety scores. A regression analysis for the prediction of adaptive skills revealed that in addition to cognition and autism severity, the severity of Inattention symptoms added to the prediction of overall adaptive skills. In light of these findings, clinicians should diagnose these comorbidities in ASD early on, and provide effective interventions to reduce their negative impact on functioning, thereby improving outcome.

Original languageEnglish
Article number717
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Volume9
DOIs
StatePublished - 20 Dec 2018

Keywords

  • adaptive skills
  • ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder)
  • anxiety
  • autism (ASD)
  • autism severity
  • cognitive abilities

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