Oftentimes ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and Autism get confused. ADHD and autism can have many overlapping symptoms and it may be difficult for parents and medical professionals to discern the difference between the two.
So, what exactly is ADHD and how is it different than Autism? And how are these conditions similar?
ADHD stands for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and it is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects both children and adults. ADHD is characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity that can significantly impair an individual’s daily functioning and quality of life. The symptoms of ADHD fall into the following cluster:
- Inattention: Individuals with ADHD often struggle to focus and sustain attention on tasks or activities that require mental effort. They may make careless mistakes, have difficulty organizing tasks and activities, avoid or procrastinate on tasks that require sustained attention, frequently lose items necessary for tasks, and appear forgetful in daily activities.
- Hyperactivity: Some people with ADHD exhibit hyperactive behavior. This would include restlessness, excessive fidgeting, difficulty remaining seated in situations where it’s expected, and a tendency to be “on the go” as if driven by a continuous motor.
- Impulsivity: Impulsivity refers to acting on urges or impulses without considering the potential consequences. Individuals with ADHD may have trouble waiting their turn, frequently interrupt conversations, and have difficulty with impulse control, which can lead to rash decisions and/or actions.
ADHD is a clinical diagnosis made typically by healthcare professionals based on a comprehensive evaluation of an individual’s symptoms, developmental history, and the exclusion of other potential causes. A person with ADHD will not necessarily exhibit all three categories of symptoms. ADHD, however, is further categorized into three subtypes:
- Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: Characterized primarily by symptoms of inattention, with fewer or no symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity.
- Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: Characterized primarily by symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, with fewer or no symptoms of inattention.
- Combined Presentation: The most common type, which involves a combination of symptoms from both the inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity categories.
ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. ADHD can have a significant impact on various aspects of an individual’s life, including academic and occupational performance, relationships, and overall well-being. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, which may include behavioral therapy, medication, or a combination of both, can help individuals with ADHD manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
It is not uncommon for children to have trouble concentrating and behaving at certain points in their lives. However, children with ADHD do not just grow out of these behaviors. It is likely that the symptoms will persist and become severe, causing difficulties at home, at school, and in social situations.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) lists some actions that fall into the category of ADHD.
A child may:
- daydream a lot
- forget or lose things a lot
- squirm or fidget
- talk too much
- make careless mistakes or take unnecessary risks
- have a hard time resisting temptation
- have trouble taking turns
- have difficulty getting along with others
- Interrupt people or have trouble waiting their turn
ADHD, Autism, or both?
Similarities between ADHD and Autism:
- Both are neurodevelopmental disorders that affect the central nervous system
- Both typically involve delayed communication skills, at the onset of development
- Both are diagnosed at a higher rate in boys than in girls
- Both may lead to challenges with understanding/controlling emotions, actions and feelings
- Both may struggle with making and maintaining eye contact
- Both have no “cure”, but are treatable and symptoms may be managed accordingly
Differences between ADHD and Autism:
- Communication is more often delayed in autism whereas communication develops into a mode of hyperactivity in ADHD
- ADHD is more typically developed and diagnosable after the age of 4 (generally); Autism symptoms may be diagnosed at an earlier age
- ADHD symptoms can be effectively managed with prescription medication; Autism is rarely treated with prescription medication
- Children with autism are more often withdrawn or disengaged than those children with ADHD
- Children with autism often struggle in social interactions and may be non-verbal; conversely, children with ADHD may hyperactively talk and attempt to dominate social settings
Can a Person Be Diagnosed with Both ADHD and Autism?
How to Diagnose ADHD vs. Autism?
- Impaired communication
- Impaired reciprocal social interaction
- Restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviors or interests