ADHD and Autism

The distinction between ADHD and autism

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, encompasses Autistic Disorder, Asperger syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified, all of which affect a person's social and emotional skills as well as nonverbal communication. There are many similarities between ASD and ADHD, but there are also differences.

Is it possible to be diagnosed with both ADHD and ASD?

More than half of all people who have been diagnosed with ASD also show signs of ADHD. In fact, the most common coexisting condition in children with ASD is ADHD. On the other hand, up to a quarter of children with ADHD have low-level ASD symptoms, such as difficulty with social skills or being overly sensitive to clothing textures.

Why do ADHD and ASD coexist so frequently, and what are their similarities?

ADHD and ASD are both neurodevelopmental disorders (brain development has been affected in some way). That is, both conditions/disorders have an impact on the central nervous system, which is in charge of movement, language, memory, as well as social and focusing abilities. A number of scientific studies have shown that the two conditions frequently coexist, but researchers have yet to determine why.

Brain development has been affected in some way by ADHD or ASD. Most importantly, this includes executive functioning in the brain, which is in charge of decision making, impulse control, time management, focus, and organization skills. Many children's social skills are also harmed. Boys are more likely to have ADHD and ASD.

Although adults can have both ADHD and ASD, the combination is less common in adults than it is in children. While ASD is considered a lifelong disorder, long-term studies have shown that symptoms persist into adulthood in one-third to two-thirds of children with ADHD.

What is the distinction between ADHD and ASD?

Because heir behavior differs from that of their classmates, many children are diagnosed with ADHD around the time they begin preschool or kindergarten. Children with ADHD may be restless all of the time, act impulsively, and have difficulty paying attention. However, some children with ADHD exhibit different symptoms, such as focusing all of their attention on one toy and refusing to play with anything else.

Some children with ASD exhibit symptoms before they reach their second birthday. Others may not show signs of ASD until they are school-aged and their social behaviors are clearly different from their classmates'. Children with ASD frequently avoid eye contact and appear uninterested in playing or interacting with others. Their ability to communicate may progress slowly or not at all. They may be preoccupied with the sameness of food textures or with making repetitive movements, particularly with their hands and fingers.

Specific ADHD and ASD behaviors

Children with ADHD frequently struggle to focus on a single activity or task. They may become easily distracted while going about their daily activities. It is difficult for children with ADHD to complete one task before moving on to the next, and they are frequently physically unable to sit still. However, some children with ADHD may become fixated on a topic or activity and hyperfocus on it. Although focusing on one thing can be beneficial, it may cause children to struggle when asked to shift their attention to other activities.

Children with ASD are more likely to be overly focused and unable to shift their focus to the next task. They are frequently rigid in their routines and have a low tolerance for change. This could imply taking the same route and eating the same foods every day. Many people are either extremely sensitive or insensitive to light, noise, touch, pain, smell, or taste, or they have a strong interest in them. They may have predetermined food preferences based on color or texture, and they may exhibit behaviors such as repeated hand flapping. Because of their intense focus, people with ASD are often able to remember detailed facts for long periods of time and may excel in math, science, art, and music.

Overview of the Treatment

A doctor who has experience treating both ADHD and ASD is the best medical provider for someone who has been diagnosed with both conditions.

Medication is commonly used to treat ADHD. Children with ASD, on the other hand, may respond better to non-medication alternatives because medication options for ASD are still limited. These could include behavior therapy to help manage symptoms and skills training to help with day-to-day living. Paying attention to diet is critical for a child with ASD because sensory-based food restriction can result in nutritional gaps. Stimulant medications can cause a loss of appetite in people with ADHD.


While the most commonly prescribed medications work well for ADHD symptoms, they are less likely to work for ASD symptoms. ASD symptoms that frequently overlap with ADHD, such as hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inattention, may respond to ADHD medications, if not as well. Medications to treat ASD are currently being developed, and ASD-related irritability, aggression, and self-injury usually respond to antipsychotic medications.

Medication is frequently used to treat children with ADHD because it helps reduce some of the major symptoms, such as hyperactivity and impulsivity. The most commonly prescribed medications are methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, Metadate, Quillivant), amphetamine (Adderall, Dexedrine, Vyvanse, Dyanavel), atomoxetine (Strattera), and guanfacine (Intuniv, Tenex). However, when they are used to treat patients with both ADHD and ASD, the stimulants—methylphenidate and amphetamine—seem less effective and cause more side effects, including social withdrawal, depression, and irritability, than when they are used to treat ADHD alone.