Conditions Mimicking Autism

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 15 April 2021

Table of Contents :

  1. Autism Spectrum Disorder
  2. Conditions That Can Be Mistaken for Autism
  3. What to Ask Your Child’s Doctor


Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism has only become a newly recognised condition recently. The autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is referred to as autism (ASD). It's a set of neurodevelopmental (or brain pathway) disorders that affect behaviour and communication.

ASD usually manifests itself during early childhood. However, adults may be diagnosed with it as well.

There are behaviours associated with ASD, such as difficulty maintaining eye contact. However, autism is unique to each person who has it. Certain individuals with ASD may exhibit symptoms that are so mild that they go unnoticed by others. Others may suffer from symptoms that are serious enough to have a significant effect on their lives.

Certain characteristics of autism are similar to or identical to those of other disorders. As a consequence, these behaviours can be misinterpreted as autism. This is problematic because providing autism therapy to someone who does not have the condition is unlikely to benefit in the way that it can. Additionally, anyone with a similar-looking health problem, such as lead poisoning, may require treatments that are unrelated to those for autism.

Conditions That Can Be Mistaken for Autism

These include:

Speech delays, hearing problems, or other developmental delays: Developmental delays occur when the child is unable to perform tasks that doctors expect children of his or her age to be able to perform. This may involve difficulties with language, talking, or hearing. Fine motor difficulties, difficulties with social interaction, and impaired thinking abilities are also possible. Although children with autism may experience developmental delays, such delays may be caused by other factors, such as lead poisoning or Down syndrome, or may be unknown.

Narrowed interests: Children with autism may become extremely interested in specific activities or items, such as maps or ceiling fans. Their concern can even seem to be obsessive. However, this does not always imply that they have autism. If they do, they may exhibit additional symptoms, such as difficulty with social interactions.

Reading early or high intelligence. Children who are able to read at a young age or demonstrate other signs of high intelligence are occasionally diagnosed with autism. This is particularly true for children who have hyperlexia. That is, when a child reads very early or exhibits other signs of high intelligence, but still struggles with communication.

Although children who have hyperlexia may also have autism, the two disorders do not necessarily coexist.

Sensory or sensory processing issues: Certain children have an extreme sensitivity to light, sound, and touch. Being hugged or hearing noisy noises can frustrate them or cause them to cease communicating. A child with autism will also do this, but they may exhibit additional signs of autism, such as speech delays.

Psychological disorders: These factors may contribute to obsessive behaviour, speech and communication difficulties, and other issues that may appear to be related to autism but are not.

Several examples include the following:

Lead poisoning: Lead is a metal that can cause brain damage. If a child consumes lead paint chips or drinks water contaminated with lead particles, they will experience developmental delays and learning difficulties. These problems may seem to be related to autism. Some research indicates that it can contribute to autism, but the connection is not clear. Children who receive treatment for lead poisoning can see an improvement in their symptoms, which is why it is important to get diagnosed.

Genetic disorders: While some of these are associated with autism (such as Down syndrome or tuberous sclerosis), others can be misdiagnosed as it. According to a recent study, up to 50% of children with a genetic condition known as 22q11.2 deletion syndrome were misdiagnosed with autism. Since many of the symptoms of 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, such as impaired speech development, may also be manifestations of autism, this is where the confusion arose.

What to Ask Your Child’s Doctor

A doctor will examine the child's growth and actions to diagnose autism. The doctor can question you (and probably your child), take a complete medical history, and observe your child's actions.

If the doctor suspects they may have ASD, an examination may be recommended. A team of autism experts, including a neurologist, psychologist, psychiatrist, speech therapist, or other specialists, will conduct a series of assessments and screenings to determine if your child has autism or another problem, such as a psychological or speech disorder.

Ask your child's doctor these questions if you believe your child has been misdiagnosed with autism or has another health condition.:

  • Have you checked my child’s hearing?

Speech growth disorders and other conditions caused by hearing difficulties may be mistaken for autism.

  • Are there other tests we should consider?

For instance, if you live in an older house, you may need to request a blood test to determine the presence of lead in your child's blood.

  • Can I see a specialist or a team of specialists?

If your doctor diagnoses your child with autism but you haven't seen a neurologist, therapist, or other specialist that specialises in ASD, request referrals to obtain more details.

  • Can we move forward with treatment even if we’re not sure what this is?

Treatments like occupational therapy, speech therapy, and social skills training can help if your child has a developmental delay that may or may not be autism.


Referenced on 14/4/2021

  2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “Autism Spectrum Disorder Fact Sheet.” 
  3. Autism: “Diagnosis lost: Differences between children who had and who currently have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.”
  4. The University of Michigan: “Developmental Delay.” 
  5. Center for Speech and Learning Disorders: “Hyperlexia.” 
  6. Child Mind Institute: “Sensory Processing Issues Explained.” 
  7. Mayo Clinic: “Lead Poisoning.” 
  8. The Journal of Applied Research: “Autism and Autistic Symptoms Associated with Childhood Lead Poisoning.” 
  9. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders: “Social Impairments in Chromosome 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome (22q11.2DS): Autism Spectrum Disorder or a Different Endophenotype?” 
  10. Cleveland Clinic: “What Is and Isn’t Autism?” 
  11. Naomi Steiner, MD, developmental and behavioral pediatrician, Boston Medical Center, Massachusetts.

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