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Autism & Anxiety: Expert Weighs In Understanding & Treating Co-occurring Conditions

Mental health issues related to autism include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, depression, anxiety, and bipolar symptoms.

Varun Verma
Written by: Varun VermaUpdated at: Apr 17, 2023 15:59 IST
Autism & Anxiety: Expert Weighs In Understanding & Treating Co-occurring Conditions

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Autism is associated with a wide spectrum of conditions, hence is termed Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism is connected with a variety of comorbidities (the presence of one or more extra diseases or disorders that overlap with a main disease or condition), some of which are related to physical health and others to mental health. To learn more about it, we talked to Dr Suresh Kumar Panuganti, Lead Consultant, Pediatric Critical Care & Pediatrics, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad.

Mental Health Conditions & Autism

Neurological conditions like seizures/epilepsy, excessive headaches or migraines, and mood disorders like anxiety, depression, bipolar, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms also can be associated with autism.

Other Medical Conditions Associated With Autism

Gastrointestinal conditions like constipation, diarrhoea, colitis (inflammation of the large intestine), gastroesophageal reflux, excessive flatulence or abdominal discomfort.

  • Respiratory conditions include recurrent respiratory tract infections and ear infections.
  • Endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism.
  • Immune dysfunction leads to recurrent infections.
  • Increased incidence of allergic disorders including skin allergy, eczema, asthma and food allergies.
  • Feeding difficulties including prolonged time for chewing, reflux, or regurgitation
  • Difficult toilet training leads to prolonged bed wetting (enuresis) or encopresis.

Also Read: World Autism Awareness Day: Embracing Neurodiversity & Creating Inclusive Spaces

Some of these issues can last for a prolonged period and some can disappear or reduce as the child grows in age. However, timely recognition of these comorbid medical conditions is essential because some of the medical conditions could stimulate or exacerbate the abnormal behaviour that occurs in children with autism. 

Once these medical conditions are treated, these abnormal behaviours can reduce. Also, as most of these comorbid conditions are treatable with medications, overall quality of life can be improved if the above conditions are addressed appropriately.

Some of these conditions can present with acute emergencies including aspiration or severe forms of allergy like anaphylaxis, requiring acute care as well as intensive care.

Sleep Disorders in ASD

Sleep disorders are a common problem associated with ASD which can be very disturbing for the child as well as the family. Sleep disorders might include trouble falling asleep, inability to sleep flat, midnight reawakenings, and sleepwalking, and they can lead to learning difficulties, hyperactivity, inattention, anxiety, and aggression.

Treatment & Management

Management includes a mainly non-pharmacological approach that includes maintaining bedtime routine, sleep hygienic practices and behavioural modification. Rarely pharmacotherapy might be required if it is associated with learning difficulties etc. Neurological problems require an evaluation and some might require anti-epileptic medications.

Once the diagnosis is made, parents should exercise caution while selecting therapy options. They should discuss with their paediatrician and developmental paediatrician and follow their guidance, since autism is not one specific condition and there is no specific intervention. 

Also ReadWorld Health Day 2023: A Guide For Parents In Understanding The Early Signs of Autism

However, there are numerous therapies and intervention programmes available, including:

  • Floortime
  • Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) 
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech and language therapy 
  • Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) 
  • Treatment & Education of Autistic & Related Communication-Handicapped Children (TEACCH)


A kid with autism may benefit from early intervention when sensory integration therapy is administered by a therapist who has the necessary training and experience. Autism is not an illness that can be treated, but one can use therapy to lessen the divergence from the norm and enhance social and communicative abilities.

Image Credits: freepik