Dr. Evdokia Anagnostou, at Toronto Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, thinks we may have been approaching autism, ADHD and OCD from the wrong direction. After working with autistic children for most of her career, Dr. Anagnostou wants a more comprehensive understanding of how the disorder works so that families and doctors are able to figure out which treatments are most effective for different aspects of autism.
Dr. Anagnostou points out that autism has an incredibly wide range of symptoms and those with autism often also have ADHD, OCD or intellectual disabilities. By keeping each condition separate as a diagnosis, it may be preventing us from a greater understanding. Anagnostou uses the example of a child with autism with sensory sensitivities and a child with ADHD with social challenges, both will be easily distracted and have difficulty interpreting social signals but may be receiving entirely different treatments for their challenges. By refusing to be locked in to previous definitions, Anagnostou hopes that this study will yield new insights.
One of her frustrations is that treatment methods of children with autism are rarely something which can be scaled up and be useful for the entire autism population. Often the treatments are only effective for a particular subset, leaving the rest of the population looking for other answers. This led her to thinking that perhaps the way we've understood the disorder has been in error. She uses the example of sorting things by one attribute, placing grasshoppers, kangaroos and frogs into the category of "things that hop". Although perfectly valid, if one then tried to understand the animals in relation to one another, a researcher would grow quickly frustrated at the apparent differences.
For those who are alarmed, Anagnostou hastens to reassure that autism is a real disorder with real symptoms. She is not attempting to remove the diagnosis but to come to a greater understanding of it, one which would allow for more accurate help and support.