Autism Related Disorders – An Overview

Autism Related Disorders – An Overview

Autism Related Disorders – An Overview | Prayatna Author

Written by

Aisha Hamna, M.Sc. Psychology

Top Child Development Centre in Kochi - Minna Mathew

Clinically Reviewed By

Minna Mathew, M. Phil .Clinical Psychology
Clinical Psychologist

Do conditions that resemble autism but aren’t autism make you confused? Or do you feel concerned that your child’s diagnosis of autism may be wrong?

 A few decades ago, autism was largely unknown. Now, you most likely hear about it frequently. Autism can present with certain symptoms that may look a lot similar to those of other conditions and because of this, some conditions might be misinterpreted as autism. This blog offers an overview of autism and similar conditions to autism. Additionally, it will also highlight the comorbid conditions that are frequently related to autism.

What Is Autism Disorder?

Autism, also known as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a complex condition characterized by communication and behavioral difficulties. The disorder manifests itself in early childhood, varies in severity, and is characterized by impaired social skills, and repetitive behaviors. These difficulties can make it difficult for affected people to function effectively in social, academic, and employment settings. The abilities and needs of individuals with autism may change over time. While some can live independently, others have severe disabilities that necessitate life-long care and support.

What Are The Conditions Similar To Autism?

Some medical conditions resemble autism due to similarities in attributes. This is because of the wide range of characteristics of autism spectrum disorder. Here are at least seven syndromes that have similar characteristics to autism. Each syndrome has symptoms that are common to autism besides its own unique set of symptoms.

Williams Syndrome

Williams Syndrome (also known as Williams-Beuren syndrome) is a rare genetic disorder characterized by the absence of a portion of DNA material on chromosome 7. Many Williams Syndrome patients exhibit autistic behaviors like developmental and language delays, problems with gross motor skills, hypersensitivity to sounds, and picky eating. They differ from individuals with typical autism as they have cardiovascular abnormalities, high blood pressure, elevated calcium levels, and are extremely sociable. They also have pixie-like facial features such as almond-shaped eyes, oval ears, full lips, small chins, narrow faces, and a slender build.

Fragile X Syndrome

Fragile X syndrome is a genetic condition that affects males more than females. Typically, males with this syndrome have a moderate to severe intellectual disability. Though females with this syndrome have a minor level of impairment, they can also be impacted. Fragile X Syndrome is frequently characterized by behavioral issues and speech-language delays. 15% to 20% of people with Fragile X syndrome engage in behaviors similar to autism, such as poor eye contact, strange hand gestures, hand biting, and impaired sensory processing. A high arched mouth, strabismus (lazy eye), huge ears, a long face, large testicles in men, weak muscular tone, flat feet, and occasionally moderate heart valve anomalies are further physical characteristics of those who have fragile X syndrome.

Landau-Kleffner Syndrome

Aphasia (loss of language) is a symptom of Landau-Kleffner Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that typically occurs between the ages of 3 and 7. It is usually diagnosed in conjunction with autism and is twice as common in males as females. Failure to react to sounds is one of Landau-Kleffner Syndrome’s prevalent traits. As a result, parents may worry that their child has hearing issues. People with Landau-Kleffner Syndrome frequently exhibit autistic traits such as aggression, poor eye contact, insistence on sameness, and sleep issues.

Prader-Willi Syndrome

While not a subtype of autism, Prader-Willi syndrome is a similar condition to Autism. The typical symptoms of this disorder include a body type that is compact, underdeveloped sexual traits, weak muscular tone, and an obsession with food that is frequently accompanied by impulsive eating. Verbal and motor development delays, trouble with learning, feeding issues in babies, snoring issues, skin picking, anger outbursts, and a strong tolerance for pain are some of the behaviors shared by both Prader-Willi syndrome and autism.

Angelman Syndrome

The neural system is impacted by the hereditary condition known as Angelman syndrome. The initial signs of this illness often appear in the first year and worsen throughout early childhood. Common signs of Angelman syndrome and autism are mental impairments, balance and motor skill issues, epilepsy, small head size, hyperactivity, laughing, grinning, flapping the hands, and trouble sleeping.

Rett Syndrome

Rett syndrome is a neurological disorder affecting primarily females. Typical characteristics of Rett syndrome include breathing difficulties, seizures, teeth grinding, difficulty chewing, hypoactivity, and severe mental deficits. Children with Rett syndrome frequently display autistic-like characteristics, such as prolonged toe walking, repetitive hand movements, body rocking, and sleep issues. Throughout their lives, most people experience a regression in their cognitive, behavioral, social, and motor skills.

Tardive dyskinesia

Tardive dyskinesia is a condition that is linked to long-term, chronic use of neuroleptic drugs(used to treat psychiatric conditions) and involves abnormal, uncontrollable movements. Common tardive dyskinesia movements include eye blinking, lip smacking, tongue thrusting, foot tapping, and head nodding. Tardive dyskinesia movements may be confused with autism because of the repetitive nature of behaviors such as body and head rocking, hand-flapping, and complex hand movement patterns.

Seek Appropriate Professional Help To Avoid Misdiagnosis

To understand your child’s symptoms, diagnose the condition, and provide appropriate treatment, an in-depth evaluation is required. Autism diagnosis usually involves a team of experts including developmental pediatricians, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, and other professionals who conduct the detailed diagnostic evaluation. A series of tests, screenings, interviews, and observations help in finding if the child has autism or another medical condition. If you feel concerned about the diagnosis, never hesitate to share your concerns or ask questions to the evaluating professionals.

Autism and Comorbid Conditions

While symptoms of some conditions appear similar to autism as discussed above, there are a few other conditions that may co-occur with autism. Nearly three-quarters of autistic children have other medical or psychiatric conditions. Here are some of the most common co-occurring physical and mental health conditions that might be diagnosed in autistic children.

Seizure or Epilepsy

Epilepsy refers to a group of brain conditions in which individuals experience or are at risk of experiencing repeated and unpredictable seizures as a result of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Seizures affect ASD individuals more, compared to the general population. Individuals diagnosed with autism typically develop epilepsy between the ages of 8 and 26. The most common symptoms include repeated, unexplained abrupt changes in behavior, staring into space, and having difficulty controlling motor movements. If a seizure occurs or epilepsy is suspected, the patient should be referred to an EEG-trained neurologist.


Anxiety causes a variety of symptoms such as tension, restlessness, hyperactivity, worry, and fear. Anxiety in autistic children may manifest as stimming(making repetitive movements or sounds), asking questions repeatedly, hurting themselves, or having difficulty sleeping. Anxiety affects 40-60% of autistic children. Social anxiety is most common in individuals with autism and is most likely caused by the social challenges that induce them to feel stressed and anxious.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention, difficulty remembering things, difficulties with organizing tasks and time management, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity that interferes with learning and daily life activities. Autism and ADHD share similar characteristics, such as not appearing to listen when others speak and interrupting or invading other people’s personal space. In people who have autism and ADD or ADHD as a comorbid condition, the intensity of the symptoms will be more than in people who only have one of the conditions.

Eating Disorder

Autistic children frequently exhibit unusual eating behaviors. Avoiding foods, eating non-food items, aversions to certain tastes and textures, and picking at food without swallowing are examples of these behaviors. They may also have sensory sensitivity to specific foods. These difficulties are frequently caused by autism-related hypersensitivities.

According to some studies, people with certain types of eating disorders are more likely to be autistic than people who do not have eating disorders. Approximately 7 out of every 10 autistic children have feeding and eating issues.

Sleep Problems

Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of autistic children. Problems include difficulty falling asleep, frequent and prolonged waking, and early rising. Many adults on the autism spectrum struggle to fall and stay asleep throughout the night. These sleep problems tend to exacerbate behavioral issues, impede learning, and reduce the overall quality of life. General sleep hygiene interventions help to improve sleep in children with ASD.

Motor difficulties

Children with motor difficulties may struggle with gross motor skills, such as difficulties in balance, and clumsiness in walking, or fine motor skills such as difficulties grasping objects, writing or using cutlery. Motor difficulties can also affect children’s ability to use their mouths effectively making them difficult to understand. These issues are frequently caused by muscle weakness. Approximately 80% of autistic children have motor difficulties. Motor difficulties can occur in babies, children, and adults, often before autism symptoms appear. Children with motor difficulties benefit from the early intervention which includes occupational and physiotherapy.

Gastrointestinal Disorder

Autistic and other developmentally delayed children appear to have more gastrointestinal symptoms than other children. Chronic constipation, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and faecal incontinence are the most common gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in the autistic population. Gastro Oesophageal Reflex Disease (GORD) and stomach bloating are two other common issues that can arise. Arching the back, pressing the belly, or gritting teeth are behavioral indicators of gastrointestinal pain. 

Signs of gastrointestinal distress may include anxiety, sleep disorders, and irritability in addition to stereotyped posturing, aggression, and self-harming behaviors. The presence of gastrointestinal symptoms has been linked to more severe autism symptoms and behavioral issues.


Autism spectrum disorder is a distinct condition, and interventions must account for autism as well as the accompanying disorders that include ADHD, epilepsy, motor difficulties, sleep problems, eating disorders, gastrointestinal conditions, and mental health conditions such as anxiety. These co-occurring conditions may call for separate or additional therapies. Consult a trained medical practitioner for diagnosis and the most suitable course of action. Hope we have helped you get an understanding of the conditions that are similar to autism and conditions that commonly accompany autism. Do leave a comment below and let us know your questions and feedback. 


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