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Autism vs ADHD: Compare and Contrast

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This article on Autism vs ADHD explains the differences between these two conditions, how they overlap and some resources to help with symptoms of both disorders.

Autism vs ADHD

ADHD and autism are both neurodevelopmental disorders (disorders created during brain development) that share some similarities, but there are some autism vs ADHD differences that are covered in this article. It is possible to draw out some differences between the two where we can identify the distinct conditions of the two disorders.

There is also a possibility of co-occurrence of both the conditions at the same time.

Sometimes, it becomes difficult to tell the difference between autism and ADHD. To ease out this difficulty, a comparison of some differences between the two disorders is established in this article, whereby the reader can identify the differences between both ADHD and autism.

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder or ASD is a complex and lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder. It typically appears during early childhood and it can have an impact on an individual’s social skills, behavioral skills, and communication skills. The autistic disorder can also impact the self-regulation and relationships of an individual.

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, autism is one of the mental disorders that fall under the category of pervasive developmental disorders which means that it results in delay in the development of social and communication skills of autistic children.

As per the estimations of CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, every 1 in 44 children has been diagnosed with ASD.

  • Autism spectrum disorder is 4 to 5 times more common among boys than girls
  • ASD symptoms appear in autistic children at an early age, mostly before the child reaches 3 years

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder found in children. A child behavior disorder specialist diagnoses children with ADHD.

ADHD diagnosis usually happens in childhood and it lasts till adulthood.

There are three different types of ADHD, depending upon the strength of one of these symptoms in the individual, namely inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, and combination of the two:

  • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation
  • Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive Presentation
  • Combined Inattentive & Hyperactive Presentation

Symptoms of Autism vs ADHD:

Symptoms of Autism:

  • Abnormal body posturing
  • Abnormal facial expressions
  • Avoidance of or poor eye contact
  • Inappropriate Social Interactions
  • Difficulty in comprehending language (poor language skills)
  • Speech disturbances
  • Behavioral disturbances
  • Difficulty in nonverbal communication

Symptoms of ADHD:

There are the following dominant ADHD symptoms that are found in the subjects:

  • Trouble paying attention
  • Trouble in controlling impulsive behaviors
  • Hyperactive
  • Difficulty focusing on things
  • Having difficulty in getting along with others
  • Forgetting and losing things a lot
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Taking unnecessary risks
  • Daydreaming a lot
  • Talking too much
  • Difficulty in time management
  • Comorbid sleep issues

Treatments of Autism vs ADHD:

Treatments of Autism:

There is no standard treatment available for autism spectrum disorder, but medical professionals suggest some options that can minimize the underlying condition and help an individual utilize his/her skills and abilities with appropriate therapies and interventions.

  • Social skills training
  • Medication Treatment
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)
  • Physical Therapy
  • Speech Therapy

Treatments of ADHD:

Following the correct diagnosis, there are the following standards ways commonly used where a developmental-behavioral pediatrician can provide medical advice and  treat ADHD in children:

  • ADHD Medications
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Counseling
  • Educational Services

Can ADHD be mistaken for autism?

It is possible to mistake ADHD with autism in the earliest stages of childhood as both of these conditions start when your child loses focus and has trouble in communication.

Despite having similarities of autism vs ADHD, they are two distinct conditions and have some differences which can help the person to differentiate between the two.

How can you tell the difference between ADHD and Autism?

Although there are some common symptoms of ADHD and autism, there are some key differences – described later in this article- that can be considered while identifying the specific type of disorder in children.

Can you have both ADHD and autism?

There is a strong possibility that if one is having the condition of ADHD, he/she will have autism along with it. It is suggested that both of these conditions must be separately studied to have the proper understanding and distinction of the two. But more emphasis must be put on studying the relationship between the two.

What do ADHD and Autism look like together?

It is possible that your child is having both ADHD and ASD together, in which case it will be difficult to distinguish between the two. In such a case it will become difficult for the doctor to diagnose both of them.

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 14% of children with ADHD also have ASD. In that case, ADHD and autism do not look good together. The combination of ADHD and ASD can cause the patient to become very weak.

Having one or both conditions is likely for a child, but it is more likely that if a child is diagnosed with both ADHD and ASD, he/she will have more problems in learning and social behaviors than the subject with a single issue.

How likely are you to have autism if you have ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are linked with each other. Having one of these conditions increases the chances of having the other. More research is going on in the subject matter.

ADHD and ASD are also related genetically. If the subject has autism, there is a strong possibility that there will be a case of ADHD in his/her relatives.

Key differences between Autism vs ADHD:

Telling a difference between autism vs ADHD can sometimes be difficult because of the overlap of many underlying symptoms. Several academic research institutions are working on these disorders and they have underlined the following key differences between the two:

1) The Core Nature

Both autism and ADHD are neurodevelopmental conditions.

Autism is a developmental disorder that creates challenges in social interactions, troubles in communication skills, repetitive behaviors, and trouble thinking.

Whereas, ADHD is a developmental disorder that makes it hard for children with ADHD to concentrate, pay attention, understand social cues, sit still, and have impulse control.

How to spot this symptom?

These are the general clues about the two different types of disorder that create a general picture about and make it easy for the observer to spot both ADHD and autism.

2) Attention Deficit:

As the name of the disorder says itself, ADHD is an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that makes it difficult for the kid to focus his/her attention on a task and concentrate on it.

Whereas autistic children have a limited scope of interest, they are strongly obsessed and focused on what they enjoy doing and they struggle focusing on things that they have no interest in.

How to spot this symptom?

The easiest way to judge these symptoms is through observation of them while they are doing homework. Children with ADHD don’t pay attention to any subject, whereas children with autism spectrum disorder pay close attention to the subjects they like, and have trouble paying attention to the subjects they don’t like.

3) Communication:

Difficulty in communication is commonly associated with autism spectrum disorder, but this issue is present in ADHD in a different way, whereby they tend to:

Children with ADHD:

While communicating, children with ADHD:

  • talk continuously
  • don’t care about the emotions of other people while speaking
  • try to conclude the conversation
  • interrupt the conversations

Children with Autism:

While communicating, children with autism:

  • find it difficult to express their emotions
  • trouble having eye contact
  • Avoid social interaction and don’t respond to them
  • Can’t communicate using gestures

How to spot this symptom?

You can identify the symptoms related to communication when your child is engaged in any kind of social communication, like family dinner, gatherings, school parties, etc.

4) Structure and Routine in Life:

Children with ADHD admire variety in life. They find it difficult to adhere to a routine that is uninteresting to them. For example, they may find it boring to sit in the classroom every day following the same thing over and over again.

Whereas, children with ASD show completely different behavior, whereby they prefer to stick to a single routine in their lives. They like to stick to sameness in every matter of life and stick to the prescribed pattern of verbal and non-verbal behaviors.

How to spot this symptom?

Job and school are two common sources of routine makeup. This symptom can easily be detected whenever the subject is involved in any kind of routine. In the case of a child, this symptom can be judged by simply observing his/her behavior when the subject starts his/her school life.

Autism Spectrum Disorder celebrities or famous people

There are several Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) celebrities or famous people who have spoken out about their condition. Holly Robinson Peete is one example. She is an actress and singer whose son was diagnosed with ASD. She has since become a vocal advocate for autism awareness and research.

Autism Speaks is a charity organization founded by Bob and Suzanne Wright, whose grandson was diagnosed with autism. The charity works to promote autism awareness and funds research into the causes and treatments of autism. Autism Speaks also provides support services for families affected by autism.

Temple Grandin is another famous person with ASD. She is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, and she is well-known for her autism advocacy. She is the author of several books about her experience with ASD and life as a high-functioning autistic individual, and she has given numerous lectures on autism and animal welfare.

Another Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) celebrity is Dan Aykroyd. He was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, which is a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). While he does not consider himself to have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), according to Autism Speaks, experts generally classify Asperger syndrome as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) because it is on the high end of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) severity.

ADHD celebrities or famous people

There are several ADHD celebrities or famous people who have spoken out about their condition. One example is actor and comedian Jim Carrey. He was diagnosed with ADHD when he was in high school, and he has spoken about his experiences with the condition in interviews and on social media.

In a 2014 interview with Larry King, Carrey said that he considers himself to be lucky because his ADHD helps him to be creative and to think outside the box. He also said that he takes medication to help him control his symptoms.

Another example is singer and actress Britney Spears. She was diagnosed with ADHD when she was younger, and she has talked about how it has affected her life. In a 2010 interview with People magazine, Spears said that she has found it difficult to deal with all of the responsibilities of her career and everyday life, and she said that ADHD has made it difficult for her to focus or pay attention. She also shared that some people who do not fully understand ADHD have accused her of taking illegal substances because they think she behaves erratically.

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Concluding Remarks on Autism vs ADHD

While attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Autism are two different neurodevelopmental disorders, there are a lot of common characteristics between autism vs ADHD.

If you are a parent or a caregiver and notice some signs of one or both of these conditions, you should talk to a doctor. Despite having no cure for either of these disorders, there are many therapies that can help the individual to face the associated challenges.

Moving ahead, it is the responsibility of the doctor to do his best for a proper and accurate diagnosis of the presence of one or both conditions. Then, it is the responsibility of the parents, doctor, schools, and the authorities to devise proper treatment programs, parent training, and professional skills to help the child excel in his/her life while controlling the weaknesses attached to the disorder.

With the help of the parents, schools, authorities, and doctors, individuals having ADHD, Autism, or both can get the self-management, emotional, personal, and professional skills to give love and support to these special kids which will eventually help them in achieving their goals in life and not let the disorders overpower the kid’s life ambitions in their fight with autism vs ADHD

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