ADHD and Autism Link: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Management


Many people have specific images of ADHD and Autism in their minds. A hyperactive child who doesn’t pay attention in class may be considered a textbook case of ADHD, while a silent child who has trouble socialising may be considered a textbook case of Autism. However, this is not always true. As certain mental conditions are depicted in specific ways in the media, it all tends to shape our expectations of the same. In this article, we look into the ADHD and Autism link in greater detail.

ADHD and Autism Link

Key ADHD and Autism Difference:

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It can occur in three forms in a child:

  • predominantly inattentive (getting distracted easily, extremely poor concentration/lack of focus, poor organizational skills)
  • predominantly hyperactive-impulsive (fidgety, talkative, interrupts a lot, doesn’t think before taking action, finds it difficult to stay focused on one task)
  • combination of the above two

Autism, on the other hand, is a spectrum disorder. People with autism may display a wide range of interlinked conditions of various severity levels.

It refers to a group of conditions that that not only affects the behaviour of the child, but also the communication skills and overall development, making it difficult for the child to mingle in the society. Autism is popularly known as a developmental disorder as the symptoms tend to appear within the first two years of life.

The key difference is that ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that makes it difficult for a child to be steady and focused, while autism is a wide range of neurodevelopmental conditions that affects a child on different levels such as, way of thinking, communication skills, and behaviour.

The Symptoms of ADHD and Autism:

The symptoms of ADHD and Autism may overlap greatly. Therefore, not knowing the ADHD and Autism link can often lead to misdiagnosis.

The following are a few symptoms that are specific to each disorder.

List of symptomsADHDAutism Spectrum Disorder
Getting distracted easily and daydreaming
Flitting from one task to another fast without completing any or growing bored with tasks quickly
Being most unresponsive to most common stimuli
Difficulty in focusing, or concentrating. Difficulty in with focusing on one task.
Singular intense focus on one task or one item
Blurting things out or talking nonstop
Unable to sit still / Highly fidgety
Interrupting activities or conversations
Lack of concern or inability to react to other people’s emotions or feelings
Repetitive movements to soothe oneself, such as rocking
Avoiding eye contact and in fact hating it
Withdrawal from social activities
Impaired social interaction
Delays in developmental milestones
Highly impatient
Struggling with discipline and organization
Highly disturbed by changes in routine

What is the ADHD and Autism Link?

One may think that the probability of a child having ADHD and Autism together is quite low, however, this is the same line of thought that makes most doctors shy away from diagnosing the two conditions at once. Recently, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) released data that showed that 14% of children who have ADHD also have Autism. Conversely, according to the American Psychiatry Association, 30-50% of children with autism also suffer from ADHD.

As this information has only recently come into light, with the APA officially stating that the two can occur together in 2013, a lot of studies are required to understand the deeper implications of this.

What is the Right ADHD and Autism Treatment?

Children with Autism must attend behavioural therapy in order to assimilate in society. On the other hand, children with ADHD often rely on drugs that sharpen one’s focus (such as Ritalin). When a child as ADHD and Autism together, the treatment often includes a combination of the two. Often, children are able to cope with some of the more severe symptoms of autism when they seek treatment for ADHD.

It is essential to take your child to a child psychologist or psychiatrist as only psychologists/psychiatrists can provide an accurate ADHD and autism assessment. Often, paediatricians notice debilitating behavioural or developmental symptoms, but for children who have milder versions of these conditions, it may take a while for someone to notice that there is a need for a psych evaluation. A psychiatrist may also prescribe certain ADHD and Autism medications to help your child cope with the condition.

Are There Any Medical Tests that Help with Diagnosis?

No, both ADHD and autism combined, and individual instances of the same require a psychologist’s /psychiatrist’s assessment for the diagnosis to occur.

The doctors will ask about the family history, look for specific behavioural traits and patterns, and will provide a detailed questionnaire to the parents about the behaviour of their child.

How to Parent a Child with ADHD and Autism?

If you’re wondering how to parent a child with ADHD and Autism, there’s no one specific set of rules you must follow. This is because each child is unique, with their own behavioural traits.

However, having said that, you must provide emotional and mental support to the child no matter what.

A few tips for doing the same are:

  • Be patient. Your child sees and interacts with the world differently so it may take a while for him/her to follow certain instructions or form certain habits.
  • Do not compare your child’s development with other children as this is only a recipe for heartbreak. Do not compare your child with others who have ADHD/Autism as each child interprets the world at his/her own pace.
  • Take a break. As a parent, you may occasionally feel guilty for wanting a night out or day to yourself. Do not feel guilty about it. A small break every now and then will help you feel refreshed and thereby, feel calmer and more patient when interacting with your child.
  • Speak to other parents in the same situation. You can find ADHD and Autism Support groups so that you can learn from each other and have someone to vent to, too!
  • Ensure your child does not feel alienated socially. Though many children with autism do not seek social bonds and acceptance, they must not be made to feel like the odd one out either.
  • Due to certain ADHD and Autism similarities, you may find yourself questioning which support norms to follow, as the guidelines for parenting ADHD children can be different from the ones for autistic children. Do not get be carried away by technicalities. Just do what you feel is right for your child.

The way ADHD and autism in adults impacts lifestyles can often boil down to the support these adults were given as children. Help your child achieve a positive outlook, no matter what, and he/she will be able to enjoy life.

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