When an individual is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) it is very common for the assessment process to uncover other aspects of their personality and behaviour that may present additional challenges.
In some cases, these additional challenges may simply be considered behaviours associated with other disorders or syndromes, such as obsessive compulsive ‘behaviours’. In other cases, when the symptoms are significant, there may be additional diagnoses, e.g. obsessive compulsive disorder.
Comorbidity is the presence of one or more additional disorders with a primary disorder. For the purpose of this website, co-morbid disorders will refer to those commonly seen in individuals who have ASD. Every person with ASD is unique and may have a different selection of co-morbid disorders. The disorders listed below are not the only co-morbid disorders that can be seen in individuals who have ASD.
This is an evolving field of research so this list may change from time to time.
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
With Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) an individual has extreme problems with inattention and distractability, to the point that it causes problems with school, home or relationships. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is diagnosed when an individual has persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity (i.e. difficulty sitting still) and impulsivity (i.e. doing things without thinking) that interfere with their functioning or development (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, 2013).
For more information on ADD/ADHD, please visit The Canadian Centre for ADHD Awareness:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by recurrent intrusive thoughts, images or urges (obsessions) that typically cause anxiety or distress. Compulsions then follow these obsessions, characterized by repetitive mental or behavioral acts (or rituals) that the individual feels driven to perform. The obsessions or compulsions will be time-consuming (they can take more than 1 hour per day) and can cause distress in social, occupational or daily functioning (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, 2013).
For more information on OCD, please visit OCD Centre Manitoba, Inc.:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is diagnosed when an individual has excessive anxiety and worrying that occurs more days than not, for at least 6 months. Anxiety and worrying can be about a number of events or activities, such as work or school performance. As a result of the anxiety and worrying, individuals may be restless, fatigued, irritable, have difficulty concentrating, have muscle tension and have sleep disturbances. GAD can cause distress in social, occupational or functioning areas of their life (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, 2013).
For more information on GAD, please visit Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba:
Major Depressive Disorder
A major depressive episode will last for a period of at least 2 weeks, during which the individual is either in a depressed mood or has lost interest or pleasure in nearly all activities. In children and adolescents, the mood may be irritable rather than sad. The individual will also experience additional symptoms, such as: changes in appetite or weight, sleep, decreased energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions, or recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation or suicide plans or attempts (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, 2013).
For more information on depression, please visit the Depression Hurts website:
An individual who has an intellectual disability will have deficits in general mental abilities and impairments in everyday adaptive functioning. Deficits are found in comparison to the person’s age, gender, and peers. The diagnosis of an intellectual disability is based on both clinical assessment and standardized testing of intellectual and adaptive functioning. The severity of each child’s intellectual disability will vary in individuals who have ASD (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, 2013).
For more information on intellectual disabilities, please visit Intellectual Disability, available from the WebMD website:
Epilepsy is a seizure disorder. It is a condition of the brain characterized by recurrent seizures. A single seizure is not epilepsy. Epilepsy can cause a wide variety of disturbances in consciousness, ranging from mild sensations or interruptions in normal feelings to convulsive seizures. Epilepsy is not contagious or a type of mental illness.
For more information on Epilepsy, please visit the following website:
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority – Epilepsy: http://www.wrha.mb.ca/healthinfo/a-z/epilepsy.php
Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by tics. Tics are involuntary, rapid, sudden movements or vocalizations that occur repeatedly in the same way. Diagnosis is based on a history of at least two motor and one vocal tic. An example of a motor tic is exaggerated blinking of the eyes. An example of a vocal tic can be a frequent, repeated throat clearing. Tics can change over time and the syndrome may also change as the child ages.
For more information on Tourette Syndrome, please visit the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada website: http://www.tourette.ca/learn.php
In certain cases, a co-morbid mental health illness can become overwhelming and may end up being more of an issue than ASD. If your child requires mental health supports, visit our ‘Mental Health Supports’ page to find out what Manitoba resources are available to you and your family.