Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) frequently overlap. At first glance, the two conditions are opposites. According to stereotypes, people with ASD concentrate too much and avoid overstimulation, while those with ADHD lack focus and seek constant stimulation. However, there is a huge overlap between ASD and ADHD. As I’ve written about the connection between ADHD and trauma and ADHD and PMS, I’d like to discuss the link between ADHD and ASD.
Overlap Between ADHD and Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Only recently have psychiatrists accepted that ASD and ADHD can occur together. Before 2013, the American Psychiatric Association denied that someone could have both diagnoses.¹ Now, studies reveal a very high comorbidity between ASD and ADHD. (Comorbidity is when two disorders appear in the same person.) Between one fifth and one half of ADHDers show symptoms of ASD, and at least half of those with ASD demonstrate symptoms of ADHD.²
These disorders might share a genetic link. Researchers found that ADHD was four times more likely than the average person to appear in someone with a fraternal twin on the autism spectrum and 18 times more likely if an identical twin had ASD.³
Similar Symptoms in ASD and ADHD
The website “Understood” has an excellent chart comparing traits of children with ASD to those with ADHD.⁴ In very broad terms, ASD involves communication problems while ADHD involves issues with self-regulation.
In spite of underlying differences, the disorders share a range of symptoms: excessive movement; impulsivity; emotional meltdowns; overstimulation; and extreme focus on a single interest (yes, even people with ADHD have this). These issues take their tolls in numerous ways, from having troubles forming friendships to lacking proper safety awareness.
Neurologists are starting to look at autism in a different way. They have noticed the overlap between ASD and ADHD (as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder and various learning disabilities) and are studying children with multiple conditions at once. This research aims to investigate which parts of the brain produce which symptoms. Because there is a wide and overlapping spectrum of symptoms between several disorders, findings could lead to more specific diagnoses and treatments.⁵
How to Treat ADHD and ASD
It is frustrating that most of these studies focus on educating parents of children with these conditions. Many adults do not have parents to guide them through their mental disorders and are trying to cope on their own. It is also disheartening for adults to read about how crucial it is to identify and treat these disorders as early as possible.
Still, it is good that new discoveries are being made, and available advice can still help adults. Many treatments work for both ADHD and ASD. These include therapy, exercise, appropriate medications, and established routines. ADHDers can especially benefit from tutoring in organization and time management, while people with autism might need additional help with speech, sensory issues, and social skills.
I hope that scientists continue to discover information that reduces stigma and helps people with ADHD and ASD live happy lives. In the comments, let me know what you think and if you or someone you know lives with both of these disorders.
- Healthline. The Relationship Between ADHD and Autism.
- ADDitude. Kay Marner. Is It ADHD or Autism? Or Both?
- Spectrum. Bahar Gholipour. Shared genetic pathways underlie autism, attention deficit.
- Understood. Amanda Morin. The Difference Between ADHD and Autism.
- The Globe and Mail. Wency Leung. ADHD, OCD, autism: Is it time to redraw the boundaries separating childhood behavioural disorders?
by Noelle Matteson
via Living with Adult ADHD – HealthyPlace