Autism and adhd differences

ADHD or Autism? How Are ADHD and Autism Different?

Written by John Perritano

In this Article

  • How Are They Different?
  • How Are They Diagnosed?
  • What Are the Treatments?
  • Can You Have ADHD and Autism?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism can look a lot like each other. Children with either condition can have problems focusing. They can be impulsive or have a hard time communicating. They may have trouble with schoolwork and with relationships.

Although they share many of the same symptoms, the two are distinct conditions.

Autism spectrum disorders are a series of related developmental disorders that can affect language skills, behavior, socializing, and the ability to learn. ADHD is a common condition that can impact how well you concentrate, stay still, or think before you act.

The correct diagnosis early on helps children get the right treatment so they don't miss out on important development and learning. People with these conditions can have successful, happy lives.

How Are They Different?

Keep an eye on how your child pays attention. Children with autism struggle to focus on things that they don't like, such as reading a book or doing a puzzle. And they may fixate on things that they do like, such as playing with a particular toy.

Kids with ADHD often dislike and avoid things they'll have to concentrate on.

You should also study how your child is learning to communicate. Although kids with either condition may struggle to interact with other people, those with autism can have less social awareness of others around them. They often have a hard time putting words to their thoughts and feelings. And they may not be able to point to an object to give meaning to their speech. They find it hard to make eye contact.

A child with ADHD, on the other hand, may talk nonstop. They're more likely to interrupt when someone else is speaking or butt in and try to monopolize a conversation. Also, consider the subject. Some kids with autism can talk for hours about a topic that they're interested in.

A child with autism usually loves order and repetition. But a kid with ADHD might not, even if it helps them.

A child with autism might want the same type of food at a favorite restaurant, for instance, or become overly attached to one toy or shirt. They can become upset when routines change.

A child with ADHD doesn't like doing the same thing again or for long times.

How Are They Diagnosed?

If you think your child has either ADHD or autism, talk to your doctor about what testing they will need. There's no one thing that can say whether a child has either condition, or both. You can start with your pediatrician, who may refer you to a specialist.

To diagnose ADHD, doctors look for a pattern of behaviors over time, like:

  • Being distracted or forgetful
  • Not following through
  • Having trouble waiting for a turn
  • Fidgeting or squirming

They'll ask for feedback from parents, teachers, and other adults that care for the child. A doctor will also try to rule out other possible causes for the symptoms.

An autism diagnosis starts with a parent answering a questionnaire about the child, often about behaviors that started when they were very young. Further tests and tools may include more questionnaires, surveys, and checklists, as well as interviews and observed activities.

[Self-Test] Spotting the Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder

What Are the Treatments?

It can be hard for doctors to tell the conditions apart, but it's important so your child gets the right treatment.

There's no one-size-fits-all way to deal with ADHD. Younger kids start with behavior therapy, and the doctor may prescribe medication if symptoms don't improve enough. Older kids will usually get both. ADHD symptoms, and their treatment, may change over time.

Different kinds of therapy -- behavior, speech, sensory integration, and occupational, for example -- can help kids with autism communicate and get along better. Medicine can't cure autism, but it may make related symptoms like trouble focusing or high energy easier to manage.

Can You Have ADHD and Autism?

Yes, it’s possible to have both conditions.

It’s common for children with an autism spectrum disorder to also have signs of ADHD. Also, some kids who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD may also have a history of autism, with symptoms like trouble with social skills or being extra sensitive to textures of clothes.

One study found that children diagnosed with both conditions were more likely to have a combined type of ADHD, which includes hyperactive and impulsive symptoms plus trouble paying attention.

Some doctors have experience treating both conditions. If you can’t find one who does, you may need to meet with more than one professional, like:

  • Your child’s pediatrician
  • A mental health specialist who treats ADHD and autism (like a child psychiatrist)

Work with your child’s care team to find a treatment plan that’s right for your little one. It might include both behavior therapy for autism and medication for ADHD.

Some doctors say that ADHD medication is important for children who have both conditions. ADHD drugs may help for certain autism symptoms that sometimes overlap with ADHD, like being hyper, impulsive, or inattentive. Stimulant ADHD medications may cause more side effects and might not work as well as they would for a child who has ADHD alone, though.

The Difference Between ADHD and Autism

April 18, 2019

At first glance autism and ADHD share many traits: impulse control challenges, trouble with emotional regulation, difficulty reading social cues, and struggles with executive function are just a few.

Some researchers are searching for connections between the two, looking at possible genetic roots that ADHD and autism may share. But so far, while there is consensus that the two conditions have many similarities, there’s not conclusive evidence that they are both conditions that are part of the same continuum.

Can Someone Have Both ADHD and Autism?

For many years, doctors held that one individual could not have both ADHD and autism, but in 2013 the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) allowed for the possibility of a dual diagnosis. The two conditions coincide frequently. According to the National Institutes of Health (NHI), about 30 to 80 percent of children with autism also meet the criteria for ADHD. About 20 to 50 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD similarly meet the criteria for autism.

It is possible to have both ADHD and autism. Finding a doctor that can give distinct diagnoses can help families and individuals seek the best treatments and therapies, something that’s important to address at an early age for both conditions.

“Rather than hoping entry to preschool or school will magically mitigate troubles, and rather than ascribing challenging or worrisome behaviors to autism alone or even to ADHD and autism together, we can support referral to appropriate psychological help,” writes Lydia Furman, MD, Assistant Editor, for Pediatrics in a blog aimed at other pediatricians that discussed patients with both ADHD and autism.

How Are ADHD and Autism Different?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition whose hallmark signs include hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. Autism is also a neurodevelopmental condition, but one characterized by social skills challenges like social interactions, communications, and repetitive behaviors. Autism can also occur on a very broad spectrum that can affect individuals in a number of ways, from cognitive disabilities or outstanding abilities to varying sensory issues.

While there may be an overlap in symptoms between the two conditions, the underlying causes may be very different. For example, social struggles might be due to the impulsivity ADHD causes or stem from sensory overloads common with autism.

Individuals with ADHD might be prone to tantrums and meltdowns due to low frustration tolerance and high impulsivity; may struggle with staying on task for non-preferred activities; have excessive “fidgety” movement; act without thinking; and take physical risks.

Common signs in people with autism might include avoiding eye contact; delayed or no speech; struggles with social cues; a use of excessive body movements (“stimming”) to self-soothe; being prone to meltdowns caused by sensory issues, anxiety, or communication struggles; and intense interest in certain preferred topics.

What Treatment Options Exist for Both?

While medication can make a big difference in managing ADHD symptoms, there are no medications that are targeted toward addressing autism as a whole – although there are medications that may help address specific symptoms common with autism, such as anxiety.

For some individuals on the autism spectrum common ADHD medications like stimulants may cause an adverse effect. There’s no clear cut way to treat patients with dual ADHD and autism diagnoses, which is why it’s important to have a doctor who can understand the nuances of both and work with individuals and families to find the best protocol.

Beyond medication, accommodations in school and work environments can also have a huge, positive impact. Both conditions may make students eligible for individual education plans (IEP), which can include mandated accommodations like a seat that’s closer to the teacher and farther away from auditory and visual distractions; visual prompts to help the student stay on task; movement breaks; and breaking assignments into smaller chunks.

Occupational therapy can provide a sensory diet that can help children with ADHD and autism self-regulate. Some individuals with autism may also benefit from speech therapy, whether it’s to help them verbalize or to help with pragmatic (social skills) communication.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) and other forms of behavior therapy are also effective for both conditions and can help teach children to manage their actions and learn cues for appropriate social interactions. Throughout their lifetime, people with both diagnoses may also benefit from seeing psychiatrists for emotional support.


https://www.aappublications. org/news/2018/03/30/children-with-both-autism-spectrum-disorder-and-attention-deficit-disorder-new-insights-pediatrics-3-30-18

Posted in: Mental Health

Difference between attention disorders with similar symptoms.

ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed conduct disorder in children under 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When a child suffers from forgetfulness, restlessness, absent-mindedness and sleep problems, they are most often diagnosed with ADHD, but there are many other disorders and diseases that could also cause these symptoms. nine0003

When the symptoms of different disorders overlap, it can easily be confusing. Searching for symptoms like impulsivity, poor concentration, and more can lead you to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Auditory Perception Disorder (ASD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and more.

You need to work with a professional you trust to get a comprehensive assessment of your child. Sometimes it happens that a child has more than one disorder, and sometimes it happens that a child is misdiagnosed. The types of correction can be very different for each diagnosis, so the key to proper treatment is understanding what exactly you are dealing with. nine0003

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When preparing for an appointment with a specialist, you need to be extremely careful and record all the details of your child's behavior so that you can provide a complete picture of what is happening at home. Understanding your child's symptoms can be tricky, so we've listed the three most common disorders that share symptoms with ADHD to help you better understand the similarities and differences between these disorders. nine0003

ADHD and Autism (ASD)

The two disorders have many similar symptoms, but it is important to remember that they are different. A child can have ADHD and ASD at the same time, but ADHD is a physiological disorder and autism is a variation of a neurological disorder. Depending on the diagnosis of ADHD, autism, or both, you will receive different treatment recommendations. Listed below are symptoms for each of the disorders, as well as similar symptoms for both disorders. nine0003


  • Easily distracted

  • Always in the clouds

  • Forgetful

  • Does not listen when spoken to

  • Does not follow directions well

  • Poor impulse control

  • Has difficulty finishing things

  • Problems with self-organization

  • nine0002 Impatient, unable to wait in line

  • Interrupts others

  • Acting without regard for consequences

  • plays rough

General symptoms

  • When a child is upset, it often leads to scandals

  • Difficulty making friends, holding conversations and responding appropriately

  • Constantly fidgets, moves and touches objects in his hands

  • Does not understand nonverbal cues


  • Avoids eye contact

  • Shy to touch

  • Speech problems

  • Frequently repeats the same phrases

  • Gets used to the routine and gets upset if it changes

  • Calms down with repetitive body movements (rocking, snapping fingers, etc. )

  • Obsessed with an interest in something

  • Problem with understanding the feelings of others and expressing empathy

ADHD and HSI (hearing impairment)

Although they are two physiological disorders with several similar symptoms, ADHD and HCW are very different. Distinguishing their symptoms is not always easy, but necessary in order to find the right help. Children with ADHD have trouble concentrating, and children with NSW have difficulty processing the information they hear. Hearing loss affects language skills, and children with ADHD have impaired executive function and memory and find it difficult to manage their emotions. Listed below are similarities and differences in symptoms. nine0003


  • Always in the clouds

  • Poor impulse control

  • Has difficulty finishing things

  • Problems with self-organization

  • Impatient, unable to wait his turn

  • Interrupts others

  • Acting without regard for consequences

  • Playing rough

  • When a child is upset, it often leads to scandals

  • Difficulty making friends, holding conversations and responding appropriately

  • Constantly fidgets, moves and touches objects in his hands

  • Does not understand nonverbal cues

General symptoms

  • Does not listen when spoken to, as if dropped out of the conversation

  • Forgetful

  • Does not follow directions well

  • Easily distracted


  • Difficulty holding a conversation

  • Difficult to answer if asked aloud

  • Frequently asks to repeat what has been said

  • Frequently asks: “huh?” "what?"

  • Doesn't follow verbal directions well

  • May have speech problems, possibly confusing similar sounds

  • Can't rhyme

  • Poor listening comprehension

  • Prefers to read a book by himself rather than having someone read to him

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ADHD and learning disorders (dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, etc.


The symptoms of ADHD and learning disorders can be very similar, depending on which learning disorder the child has. Although 30-50% of children with ADHD also have some form of learning disorder, ADHD itself is not considered a learning disorder. You may see similar behaviors and symptoms, or you may have a child with both ADHD and a learning disorder. Since the causes of a child's difficulties can be very different, interventions (methods of assistance) should be selected individually, depending on the situation. Here are some symptoms of ADHD and learning disorders that can show up in children:


  • Does not listen when spoken to, as if dropped out of the conversation

  • Always in the clouds

  • Does not follow directions well

  • Impatient, unable to wait his turn

  • Interrupts others

  • Acting without regard for consequences

  • plays rough

  • nine0002 When a child is upset, it often leads to scandals

  • Difficulty making friends, holding conversations and responding appropriately

  • Constantly fidgets, moves and touches objects in his hands

  • Does not understand nonverbal cues

General symptoms

  • Forgetful, "lazy and unmotivated"

  • Does not follow directions well

  • Problems with self-organization

  • Problems with concentration

  • Inappropriate reaction in various situations

  • Easily distracted

Learning disorders

  • Speech delay

  • Poorly developed social skills and coordination

  • Difficulties with written words and rapid letter recognition

  • Difficulties with pronunciation of words aloud

  • Difficulties with independent reading and memorization

  • Difficulty in organizing thoughts

  • Poor understanding of the concept of time and everything related to it

Recognizing symptoms or understanding the causes of disorders is not always easy, especially when disorders have so many similar symptoms. Explore different attention disorders to better understand them and the behaviors associated with them. You need to work with a qualified professional to accurately evaluate your child and find the best support programs for them. nine0003


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Summing up the symptoms:

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guide for parents in the intricacies of diagnoses

Delays in social skills. Difficulties with communication. repetitive behavior. What's Behind It All: ADHD? Autism? Both? When symptoms overlap, parents need a better understanding of each diagnosis in order to provide effective treatment.

What is autism?

Autism is a complex neurological disorder that affects boys four times more often than girls. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are often referred to by physicians as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs). nine0003

PDD is a group of disorders that includes: autism (including atypical autism), Asperger's syndrome, Rett's syndrome and other non-specific developmental disorders. The disorders are characterized by problems in communicating with other people, the need for strict adherence to certain routine procedures and fixation on the repetition of certain actions and words/sounds.

Some pediatricians understand these disorders well enough to diagnose PDD, but most need specialist support, especially if the child has already been diagnosed with ADHD. nine0003

ADHD or autism?

ADHD and autism are neurological disorders that affect similar brain functions. These are different disorders, but they share the same symptoms - the child is difficult to settle in, socially awkward, able to focus only on things that interest him, and impulsive - and both of these disorders are inherited.

As a rule, many parents cannot distinguish between autism and ADHD. When a child has trouble sitting still during homework, school, or meals, when they constantly fidget or talk too much and too insistently, most parents and teachers think: “This child must have ADHD!”. nine0003

Most doctors will usually diagnose attention deficit disorder right away. The disorder is widely known, has been around for a long time, and there are effective strategies to treat it. However, it is important to remember that almost any psychological or developmental disorder in children can look like ADHD, whether the child is hyperactive or not. Children under stress due to learning problems, anxiety, depression, or sensory integration issues may show the same symptoms. nine0003

An expert assessment is required to establish a correct diagnosis.

The diagnosis of ASD requires evaluation by a child psychiatrist or neuropsychiatrist.

Because autism cannot be diagnosed through medical testing, diagnosis occurs through interviews, observation, and peer assessment. Even when the professional gives his opinion, he often evades the answer, saying, "Well, the child is fidgety and this is a fairly typical behavior that somewhat confirms the diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorders." This kind of conversation is frustrating for parents and the child, but sometimes it's inevitable. A follow-up assessment at the next check-up often clears things up, but sometimes a child doesn't need a diagnosis until they get the help they need. nine0003

Treating ADHD can help with autism symptoms. Typically, a child who has been diagnosed with ASD is not additionally diagnosed with ADHD. This, however, does not mean that children with ASD do not benefit from interventions that help children with ADHD.

Most parents and pediatricians choose to start with non-drug therapy to manage symptoms that interfere with social and academic success and lead to hectic home life. The mainstay of ASD treatment is behavioral therapy, which encourages desired behaviors and discourages unwanted ones. It can be helpful to create lists, rules, and schedules to help discipline children with ASD. Marking completed tasks on a list can give autistic children a sense of accomplishment. nine0003

Physical exercise has a positive effect on attention-deficit children and children with ASD, who seem to have boundless energy. Channeling excess energy into physical activities such as swimming or karate that do not require much interaction with other children allows them to burn it off without the pressure of socializing.

If behavioral and educational interventions are not enough, medications can help.

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