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ADHD Vs Autism: What Is The Difference

The differences between ADHD and autism spectrum disorder begin with the presented symptoms required for diagnosis. Autism and ADHD may appear similar in some respects and often coincide with each other as comorbid disorders. Research suggests that anywhere from 50-70% of children with autism worldwide also have comorbid ADHD.

A Look at Autism vs ADHD

Some symptoms of ADHD and autism overlap, but the disorders present themselves in different ways. Individuals with autism might be attached to a particularly familiar environment or routine, and people with ADHD may be more likely to desire novel situations. Sometimes, the differences between ADHD and autism can be subtle. For example, both disorders affect social functioning, but the reason differs between them. People with ADHD might miss social cues due to inattention, whereas those with autism may miss cues or have difficulty understanding them.

Is ADHD Autism?

Due to their common comorbidity and shared traits, it is not uncommon for people to wonder, “Is ADHD autism?” Though ADHD is not a part of the autism spectrum, both ADHD and ASD are considered neurodivergent frameworks of the human mind, and while the differences between ADHD and autism are what define them, the disorders have a few similarities as well.

Examining ADHD and Autism Overlap

People diagnosed with ADHD or ASD may:

  • Experience impulsivity

  • Learn differently than their peers

  • Have difficulty with organization skills

  • Lack focus and become easily distracted

  • Anger quickly or have trouble expressing frustration

  • Face challenges in social and interpersonal situations

While there are some shared traits when it comes to ADHD vs autism, Susan Mayes et al. (2015) determined that ASD and ADHD are distinguishable, separate disorders. So, if autism is a distinct diagnosis, then what is ADHD?

Autism has a strong relationship with attention deficit hyperactive disorder, even if they are not the same thing, so parents can benefit from understanding the signs of both.

How Do ADHD, Attentiveness, and Autism Relate?

Attentiveness and autism are no strangers to one another, and attentiveness is a common obstacle among people diagnosed with autism. In

 unabbreviated form, attention deficit hyperactive disorder clearly indicates one of its primary symptoms—a deficiency in attention. However,

 this challenge of attention for those with ASD and autism can manifest in different ways.

Attentiveness and Autism

People with autism often have special interests that can occupy a large amount of their attention, and speaking with a person with autism on these topics can result in delightfully detailed conversation on niche topics. However, when it comes to topics they are uninterested in, people with autism may have a harder time focusing for lengthy periods of time. While it is a characteristic for a wide range of people with autism, distractibility is not a part of the ASD diagnosis.

Attentiveness and ADHD

ADHD affects people’s attention differently than autism. Where a person with autism may be able to concentrate on areas of interest for extended periods of time, ADHD can inhibit focus even on subjects that a person has great passion for. Current research on ADHD suggests that dopamine imbalance in the brain affects the way people who have the disorder experience satisfaction, which may increase the frequency of boredom. While it is not a prerequisite for an autism diagnosis, distractibility is required for an ADHD diagnosis.

ADHD Stimming vs Autism Stimming

Stimming is usually a subconscious mechanism to emotionally regulate or cope during overstimulating situations. Common stimming behaviors can include flapping hands, spinning, rocking, head banging, and covering ears.

To combat nervousness, stress, or anxiety, people with ADHD might engage in stimming. ADHD vs autism stimming may appear differently, and

 common stimming behaviors might include nail biting, finger tapping, leg shaking, or playing with hair.

In some cases, people with ADHD might need an outlet for bottled energy or suppressed excitement. Occasionally, this may result in “happy stimming” as a cathartic release in these situations.

Stimming and Self-Regulation

Some stimming behaviors in ADHD and autism overlap, but the root of stimming in either case generally results from an attempt to self-regulate. Even neurotypical people can exhibit similar behaviors—typically referred to as “fidgeting.” On the other hand, stimming can take fidgeting to a higher degree and may even affect the daily living of the person attempting to manage themselves.

If self-soothing stimulations begin to become a detriment to day-to-day life, people with ADHD can try taking small breaks during tasks for movement, divide large tasks into smaller goals, and keep their workspace organized to prevent distractions. Others may find less disruptive ways to stim, such as inconspicuous fidget toys or doodling.

Autism vs ADHD—Test and Diagnosis

For neurological disorders such as autism and ADHD, doctors use interviews and observation in place of standard tests as a tool for diagnosis. Children must exhibit multiple symptoms to receive a medical diagnosis, and they must show symptoms in more than one environment. Through their observations, they will determine whether the symptoms are the result of neurodivergent development or a different root cause.

Difficulties with hearing, learning, and sleeping may also result in symptoms that may also appear in those with autism or ADHD. During observation, medical experts may also uncover symptoms of other disorders, such as anxiety, that may occur along with autism or ADHD.

While not an official diagnosis, Applied ABC’s autism assessment can help indicate signs of autism for those who may benefit from medical evaluation.

Sources Cited:

ADDA Editorial Team. ADHD Stimming: Why It Happens and How to Cope – ADDA – Attention Deficit Disorder Association.

Mayes, Susan D., et al. Autism and ADHD: Overlapping and discriminating symptoms

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