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'Co-Occurring' Disorders May Explain Change in Autism Diagnosis
Date:1/23/2012

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Jan. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Many children with autism also have other developmental or psychiatric conditions, including learning disabilities, speech delays, attention or seizure disorders and anxiety.

According to new research, some of those co-occurring conditions may explain why autism diagnoses often change as children get older.

In a survey by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, more than one-third of parents with children between 6 and 17 years old reported that their child's diagnosis of autism had changed over time.

"We don't know what changed the diagnosis. However, we want to deliver the message that it's important to look at the other coexisting conditions, evaluate them before you make a diagnosis, and also recognize these conditions vary by development age," said study author Li-Ching Lee, an associate scientist in the epidemiology and mental health departments at the School of Public Health.

Autism is a neurodevelopment disorder characterized by problems with social interaction, communication and restricted interests and behaviors.

In the study, researchers used 2007-2008 survey data from the parents of nearly 1,400 children aged 3 to 17 who had received a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including autism, Asperger disorder -- a mild form of autism, and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified.

Parents were asked if their child currently had a diagnosis of autism or an ASD, or had had one in the past.

Nearly 26 percent of parents of children aged 3 to 5 reported a change in diagnosis, the researchers said. Nearly 34 percent of parents of children aged 6 to 11 and 35 percent of the parents of 12- to 17-year-olds reported their child was diagnosed with autism at some point but no longer was considered to have autism, the researchers found.

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