Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children with Down Syndrome

Signs and symptoms of Down syndrome is fairly easy to detect especially since there are specific physical characteristics of the disorder. But what if there is also a diagnosis of autism?

Studies show that 5 to 39% of children with Down syndrome are also on the autism spectrum. There are overlaps in some of the symptoms which delays the signs and symptoms of autism. This observation is slowly growing and informing parents and educators  to observe for specific signs and symptoms.

It is possible that educators and therapist may be the first to notice that children with Down syndrome also display characteristics that are similar to autism.

Why is it important?

According to authors Margaret Froehlke and Robin Zaborek from the book, When Down Syndrome and Autism Intersect, The education approach in both Down syndrome and autism will be different than for children with a single diagnosis of Down syndrome including accommodations and writing the IEP. Teaching strategies will also differ. Teaching a student with Down syndrome who require tactile demonstrations, simple directions, and immediate feedback will now require concrete language, social stories, the use of few choices and the use of concrete language.

The importance of getting the diagnosis
Most often children with Down syndrome are treated for the characteristics of having Down syndrome which overlooks giving children the appropriate treatment for Autism such as social skills and sensory issues. A child or young adult with both diagnosis will likely experience aggressive behaviors, meltdowns, and show signs of regression during their early development. The following are signs and symptoms to look for in your child, or student:
  • Hand flapping
  • Picky eater
  • Echolalia
  • Fascination with lights
  • Staring at ceiling fans
  • History of regression
  • Head banging
  • Strange vocalization
  • Anxiety
  • Seizure Disorder

Signs of overlap include:

As the student gets older, there may be ongoing issues with sensory disorders and transitions leading to meltdowns

Additional Resources:

Autism and Meltdown Resources

Printable Down Syndrome Fact Sheet

 

Reference

When Down Syndrome and Autism Intersect: A Guide to DS-ASD for
Parents and Professionals

By Margaret Froehlke, R. N. & Robin Zaborek, Woodbine House, 218 pp.

Updated 1/12/2021

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