Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are both neurodevelopment disorders that affect people with cerebral palsy. ADHD is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder reported in children with cerebral palsy.[1] Autism affects approximately 6.9 percent of children with cerebral palsy and 18.4 percent of children with non-spastic cerebral palsy.[2]

Individuals with ADHD demonstrate inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity (usually all together)[1]. Since there are symptoms associated with having cerebral palsy that may appear similar to ADHD, it is vital that clinicians carefully evaluate the child with CP to determine if an ADHD diagnosis is warranted. For example, children may have the following difficulties which relate to cerebral palsy, but may be mistaken for ADHD symptoms:[1]

  • Problems with cognitive and executive function skills
  • Slower pacing to process information that presents as day dreaming or slower response times
  • Visual impairments which lead the child to turn their gaze away when being spoken to (this may actually be the child turning their head to listen rather than appearing to turn away)
  • Communication difficulties

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) generally refers to a range of neurodevelopmental conditions that include difficulty with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.[1][3].In children who have cerebral palsy and seizure disorders, the frequency of autism is 41 percent[1]. This information however, is based on limited data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDM) and further research is needed.

The ADDM Network has been established by funding from Congress to gather population based information on 8-year-old children with ASD. There are three ADDM sites that also collect data on children with cerebral palsy because individuals with cerebral palsy also may present with an ASD diagnosis. Speak with your child’s pediatrician or healthcare team if you are concerned that your child may have symptoms of ASD.

Speak with a member of your child’s healthcare team, particularly a developmental pediatrician, if you are concerned that your child with cerebral palsy may have autism or ADHD, or any other cerebral palsy co-condition. You are also welcome to join our MyCP discussion forum for peer support and educational information about having cerebral palsy and autism or cerebral palsy and ADHD.

For more information, download our free cerebral palsy tool kit.

References
  1. Glader, L. (2019). Children and youth with complex cerebral palsy: Care and management (p. 217-p. 218) (1399979700 1021047818 R. D. Stevenson, Author). London: Mac Keith Press. doi:https://www.mackeith.co.uk/shop/complex-cerebral-palsy-care-and-management/
  2. Autism Speaks. (n.d.). What is autism? Retrieved June 08, 2021, from https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism
  3. National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, December 31). Prevalence of cerebral palsy, co-occurring autism spectrum disorders, and motor functioning. Retrieved June 08, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/features/prevalence.html