YOUR HEALTH: Why does ADHD and autism overlap in some children?

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DURHAM, North Carolina – Like most 7-year old boys, Darren Meeks loves to play with his monster trucks and ride his scooter.   But Darren knows he's different.

"I'm autistic so I'm more sensitive," he explained

Darren was diagnosed with autism at age four.

"He was diagnosed with ADHD a year later," explained his mother, Myranda Meeks.

"40 to 60 percent of children with autism also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD," said Dr. Geraldine Dawson, director of Duke University's Center for Autism and Brain Development.

It is unknown why autism and ADHD may overlap, but children with both may get a delayed autism diagnosis. Researchers at Duke University are conducting a study that focuses on early detection, measuring the brain`s response to information to help them better understand the link.

"In fact, those children are 30 times more likely to be diagnosed with autism after age six," explained Dr. Dawson.

So researchers at Duke University are conducting a study that focuses on early detection.  The five year study funded by the National Institutes of Health will also evaluate a treatment that combines behavioral intervention with medication for ADHD.  The study will be starting in January 2018.

"We're going to be following nine thousand children from the community," said Dr. Dawson.

Researchers will measure the brain's response to information to help them better understand the link.

"We want to see whether treating the ADHD symptoms will allow the child with autism to better benefit from early intervention," said Dr. Dawson.

Myranda admits life has changed after the dual diagnosis. but Darren is thriving in school, and has lots of friends.

"But our brains just work differently," added Darren.

ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER: ADHD is a brain-based genetic syndrome that has to do with the regulation of a particular set of brain functions and their related behaviors. These are collectively referred to as the executive functioning skills, and include things like attention, concentration, memory, social skills, organization, etc. Approximately five percent of adults have ADHD, over 11 million people in the U.S. ADHD usually persists throughout a person`s lifespan; there is no cure, and the majority of people diagnosed do not outgrow it. Not every case is the same; there are different subtypes of ADHD such as inattentive, hyperactive, and combined type. The definition outlined by the American Psychological Association is lifelong, persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development across time and settings.   (Source:

AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER: Autism refers to a range of conditions which can be characterized with repetitive behaviors, social skills, speech and nonverbal forms of communication, as well as unique strengths and differences. There are many types, caused by different combinations of environmental influences and genetics. The most obvious signs tend to appear between ages two and three years; in some cases it may be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Parents with concerns should seek evaluation immediately, as early intervention can improve outcomes. Possible signs of autism in babies and toddlers will vary by age, but signs at any age that may be noticeable can include but are not limited to: avoiding eye contact and preferring to be alone, remaining nonverbal or having delayed language development, repeating words or phrases over and over, and/or has highly restricted interests.  (Sources:

If this story  has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

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