Meet My Brain - A Field Guide to Autism

Comorbidities and Coexisting Disorders

October 03, 2022 The Autistic Woman
Meet My Brain - A Field Guide to Autism
Comorbidities and Coexisting Disorders
Show Notes Transcript

There are a range of conditions that can occur independently and simultaneously with autism. They’re not always diagnosed at the same time. Learn about some common coexisting disorders. 

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Many co-morbid or co-existing conditions are considered to be neurologically based. 

Some are considered mental health issues.

Some people think some of these are behavior based, for example, there are those who falsely believe addiction is a choice.

As more research is done we may find the answers.

This episode is about co-morbidities also called co-existing conditions that are commonly found in autistics. 

Many autistics have more than one co-existing condition.There isn’t a lot of scientific research confirming a connection in all cases and every autistic person is different.

You may notice that there are symptoms which overlap conditions. There may be no relation or causation, for example, depression doesn’t cause autism but living with autism can be a cause of depression.

Here is a list with descriptions of some conditions that co-exiting with autism.

Several that affect the endocrine system in the body are:

Thyroid - The two types of thyroid conditions that occur typically are hypothyroid, or low thyroid levels, in and hyperthyroid, high levels of thyroid. Either can contribute to depression, insomnia, over or under sensitivity in reflexes, energy levels, temperature sensitivity and weight, It’s one of the first thing a good psychiatrist checks before treating a patient for depression. Severe depression in teenagers is often linked to high thyroid and may include weight gain as well as other symptoms of depression.

PMDD - Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder aka PMS- it’s considered to be a mental health condition; severe depression, anxiety, anger, restlessness, impulsivity, negative outlook; treatment with hormones is rarely successful

Post-partum depression - now recognized as a mental health condition. This is not situational depression. It has many similarities to PMDD, can be affected by hormones such as hormonal changes due to breast-feeding. Simply stopping breast-feeding can cause the symptoms to subside.

Collagen disorders:

EDS - Ehlers Danlos Syndrome - disorder related to collagen and connective tissue more common is the hypermobility type, although any type. One of the types includes severe gastrointestinal issues and is fatal often by the time a person is in their 20s.

Dupuytrens Contracture - is another type of disorder related to collagen and connective tissue that results in excess growth of tissue in the palms of the hands causing the fingers to eventually close into a frozen position like a fist. The growth of tissue may stop when there is little noticeable deformity or may continue to its most severe form. There is no treatment to stop or prevent it.

Velvety Skin - told my whole life that I had very soft skin

Fragile skin - tears easily

Bruising easily

Other rather common co-ocurring conditions are:

Digestive Issues, like IBS and gastroesophageal reflux is relatively common is autistics

Allergies - Some autistics are more likely to have skin allergies, asthma, food allergies, frequent ear infections

Insomnia - difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. Once I understood I am autistic I finally had an explanation for the frequent times I awaken during the night and have since my middle 20’s.

POTS Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and Hypotonia - Symptoms include:

dizziness or lightheadedness.

  • fainting.
  • problems with thinking, memory and concentration – this combination of symptoms is often called "brain fog"
  • heart palpitations.
  • shaking and sweating.
  • weakness and fatigue (tiredness)
  • headaches.
  • poor sleep.

I’ve heard autistics talk about POTS and it seems to interfere greatly with daily life

Scoliosis - spine curvature. It’s effects on the body are:

  • Uneven shoulders.
  • One shoulder blade that appears more prominent than the other.
  • Uneven waist.
  • One hip higher than the other.
  • One side of the rib cage jutting forward.
  • A prominence on one side of the back when bending forward

Non-epileptic seizures - those caused by a psychological condition, can include staring blankly

Epilepsy - neurological disorder causing seizures, twitching, loss of awareness

Tinnitus - Neurological condition of noise in the ears, such as ringing, roaring, buzzing, hissing, or whistling; the noise may be intermittent or continuous. Seems relatively common in autistics.

Dyspraxia - clumsiness; Symptoms vary but include bumping into furniture, counters and walls. Dropping things. Tripping, uneven gait

Autism is not a learning disability. In some cases it occurs with one or more learning disabilities and results in misunderstandings about autism. I think it is where the idea of low and high functioning came to be. Some people are mistaking autism for a learning disability. As most of us agree, there are no types of autism under the current definitions, meaning there is no severe autism vs mild autism.

Dyslexia - learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words 

Hyperlexia -advanced and unexpected reading skills and abilities in children way beyond their chronological age but not necessarily understand everything about what they read. I read at an advanced level yet my reading comprehension scores were lower than expected.

Prosopagnosia - it’s not a learning disability except that a person may have trouble learning faces and an inability or difficulty recognizing faces

Echolalia - mimicking other people’s words. I’ve heard it called a psychiatric disorder and pathological which I personally disagree with. I think it’s neurologically based. Listen to the episode on echolalia for more information.

Selective mutism - it’s been called a severe anxiety disorder that typically starts in childhood and can persist into adulthood.

Researchers believe mutism shares features of autism but is not considered co-morbid.

Migraine - neurological, unknown etiology, patients are typically told to change their diets however there is no scientific connection to a particular food as a cause. 

OCD - a pattern of unwanted, uncontrollable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead a person to have repetitive behaviors, feel a need to be in control of situations and people. People with OCD typically have obsessions and compulsions. Since we all can have obsessive thoughts the criteria for OCD 


  • It takes up at least an hour of the person’s day 
  • Are beyond a person’s control
  • Aren’t enjoyable
  • Interfere with work, social life, or another part of life

ODD - Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Unknown why it occurs with autism. 

Symptoms include:

angry and irritable, argumentative and defiant behavior and vindictiveness.

ADHD - a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the frontal lobe or management center of the brain. It can cause extreme restlessness, difficulty concentrating or focusing, easily distracted, may act impulsively. The behavior is said to be caused by the brain’s need for stimulation which is why stimulant medication is an effective treatment. Medication isn’t a cure.

If ADHD is left untreated there is a risk that a person will turn to drugs of abuse such as methamphetamine to compensate.

Often people aren’t diagnosed until they’re adults and it’s not uncommon that their ADHD is discovered at the time a child is diagnosed.

Bipolar Disorder - was formerly called manic-depressive disorder; is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). There are several types including a type that involves extreme highs and lows and one where the lows, or depressive phases, are more prominent while the emotional highs are less often and less intense. A person with bipolar disorder may feel euphoric, full of energy or unusually irritable during the mania phase. It’s a lifelong condition that can be treated with medication.

Clinical Depression aka Major depressive disorder is the most severe type of depression. which is a mental health condition that is terminal (no cure, only treatment) The longer a person waits to get treatment the harder it is to treat. A person can become resistant to a certain medication so it may be necessary to change medications. 

Clinical depression isn’t the same as situational depression which is caused by a loss, a medical condition such as a thyroid disorder or other relatively temporary life situation. 

The symptom list is extensive and sometimes it is confused with other conditions:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
  • Left untreated it can lead to death

Some of these symptoms, in my opinion, are caused by autism or even may be a feature of autism. 

Generalized Anxiety - anxiety that is not limited to one cause, rather is a feeling of anxiousness without what seems like an apparent cause

Social anxiety - persistent, intense anxiety or fear over social situations, may cause extreme avoidance, may feel you’re being judged by others

Agoraphobia - fear of leaving the house, fear of open spaces, crowded spaces, having no escape in those situations. There is no known cause. It can result in avoidance of social situations, going to things like fairs or public events, staying home

  • Avoidance
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Trouble breathing or a feeling of choking.
  • Chest pain or pressure.
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness.
  • Feeling shaky, numb or tingling.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Sudden flushing or chills.
  • Upset stomach or diarrhea.

Anorexia - an emotional disorder, loss of appetite, can also include an obsessive desire to lose weight. Has some relation to addiction.

Substance Abuse Disorder and Addiction - compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity causing harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, seizures, pain and/or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence. Addiction includes an inability to stop even after experiencing negative consequences.

Autistics may turn to alcohol or other substances as a way to medicate anxiety or depression or both.

I heard a neurobiologist describe it as a progressive narrowing of things that bring pleasure in the brain.

This isn’t an exhaustive list and you may know others that aren’t mentioned here.  Some of the genetically based conditions or disorders that are more complex than I can adequately cover include: Fragile X syndrome, Down syndrome, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, neurofibromatosis type I, and tuberous sclerosis complex.

The combination of the overlapping of symptoms plus the autistic person’s hypersensitivity often leads to an autistic person visiting the doctor more than a non-autistic person. This leads to the inaccurate label “hypochondriac.”

Doctors would benefit by learning the features of autism and co-morbid conditions. I believe it would help them understand and diagnose the autistic person. We may be a long way from that happening.

Don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m on Twitter at @anautisticwoman or you can email me at I’ve been enjoying your emails and messages, thank you!

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This has been MMB - AFGTA, I’m the Autistic Woman. Slava Ukraine!