Diagnosis of ADHD and autism have been steadily rising over the years, in both children and adults as our ability to recognize the many different ways both can present in different people. There is probably a good reason for that; a reason that can make things more difficult for both the adult’s a child’s life as well as people trying to understand their own disorders. Trying to distinguish between ADHD and Autism can be hard because of two distinct problems; co-morbidity and overlapping issues.
Co-morbidity is the scientific term for when multiple conditions or diseases are present simulations in an individual. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition. Autism is a collection of neurodevelopmental conditions and one of those, quite frequently, is ADHD. The biggest difference between the two on this level is how affected their social and communication skills are. Let’s say an autistic child knocks over another’s block tower; they may see the sad face, be able to mimic it if asked, but may not understand what it means. Meanwhile a child with ADHD may completely miss the look and not realize that they’ve upset their friend. But if it’s pointed out to them, they will most likely understand how they made their friend feel just by seeing the expression. And, perhaps stereotypically, while an autistic child has trouble with verbal communication and interactions, a child with ADHD can be very hard to quiet down.
Even when co-morbidity isn’t happening, autism and ADHD can display very similar traits. It’s important to look at why the behavior is happening. Both have issues with focus, though this tends to limit an autistic person’s interests to a small number of things while Facebook groups like “ADHD Hobby Swap” have popped up for people to get rid of all the things they bought for their current hyper-fixation and move on to the next one. Both groups stim, but an autistic person will be doing so to self-sooth and someone with ADHD may be getting out excess energy or keeping themselves entertained.
While trying to figure out why behaviors are presenting themselves, it’s just as important to figure out the purpose. Not only may that help narrow down a diagnosis, it could be used to find ways of coping with them and help an autistic person, a person with ADHD, or an autistic person WITH ADHD make their world function for them.
Is It ADHD or Autism? (2017, April 3). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/add- adhd/childhood-adhd/adhd-or-autism
Morin, A. (2021, April 2). The difference between ADHD and autism. Understood.
Tayler Clark, MSW, LCSW, Founder of Nova MHS.
Tayler works along side Marissa to make sure that the information provided reflects the practice and our values as well as provides accurate and up to date information. Tayler also acts as a general editor for the blog.