Autism vs ADHD

May 13, 2022

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism can share many similarities. Although they may have many related symptoms, these are two different conditions. In this article, we explore ADHD and autism in depth. We look at how the two conditions overlap and the differences and discuss treatment options.

What is Autism?

Autism, popularly known as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a term used to describe a broad range of conditions characterized by difficulties in social skills, nonverbal communication, speech, and repetitive behavior. As the Centers for Disease Control highlight, 1 in 44 children in the United States suffers from autism.

Types of Autism

There are five main types of autism, as listed below:

  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder
  • Pervasive developmental disorder
  • Kanner’s syndrome
  • Rett syndrome

Symptoms of Autism

Some common symptoms of ASD are:

  • Poor eye coordination
  • A lack of interest or too much interest in certain topics
  • Difficulties looking at or listening to others
  • Resenting human touch
  • Challenges adapting to changes in routine
  • Hypersensitivity to touches, smells, sound, or light

Autism is four times more prevalent in boys than girls. The cause of the condition remains unknown, but doctors say it may stem from problems in certain parts of the brain tasked with interpreting language and sensory input.

What is ADHD? 

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common neurological disorders, affecting approximately 2.5% of adults and 8.4% of children. The condition is more prevalent in males than in females. Children with ADHD experience hyperactivity, struggle to pay attention and have poor impulse control. There are three levels of ADHD, based on an individual’s specific symptoms:

1. Inattentive ADHD

Patients who have inattentive ADHD often show the following symptoms:

  • They are not attentive to details
  • Their minds tend to wander when spoken to
  • They have difficulties maintaining focus in conversations or long lectures
  • They rarely get tasks done. Most times, they often leave tasks such as schoolwork, housework, or job-related duties halfway done.
  • The individual lacks organizational skills

2. Impulsive ADHD

Individuals who have impulsive ADHD often show the following symptoms:

  • They are unable to remain seated, either at school or at their place of work, for a long time.
  • They often run about in inappropriate places
  • They talk too much
  • They are often on the move  
  • They often interject people mid-conversation

3. Combined ADHD

Patients who have combined ADHD have both impulsive and inattentive types.

Currently, there is no laboratory test doctors can use to diagnose ADHD. Diagnosis of the condition involves talking to parents, teachers, and caregivers about a child’s behavior at home and school. Doctors often carry out further medical evaluations such as hearing and vision tests to rule out other possible conditions.

Researchers have not yet determined the primary cause of ADHD. However, strong evidence suggests that genetics, premature birth, and brain injury can cause the condition.

Autism vs ADHD Overlap

It may be very difficult to distinguish between ADHD and autism because, at times, the two conditions co-occur. Case in point, an individual with ADHD can experience signs such as intense concentration on one subject matter, a symptom that’s rarely seen in people who have ADHD.

The Centers for Disease Control report that approximately 14% of children with ADHD also have ASD. It is, however, important to understand that not all children can receive a clear diagnosis. This is why parents and teachers should work closely with doctors to evaluate the presence of both conditions.

Understanding the Connection between ADHD & Autism

For a long time, doctors believed that someone could not be diagnosed with ADHD and autism at the same time. However, this all changed in 2013, with the release of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). The APA outlines that the two conditions can sometimes overlap.

Doctors and researchers have not yet established what causes either condition or why they occur together at times. That said, ADHD and autism could strongly be linked to genetics. More research needs to be carried out to understand better why the conditions occur separately or together.

Differences between Autism vs ADHD

The following are the main differences between ADHD and autism:

1. Paying attention

Individuals with ADHD face challenges paying attention to one thing for a long time. It is easy for people with ADHD to become distracted. Autistic persons, on the other hand, tend to put all their focus on things that interest them but find it hard to focus on things that don’t capture their interest.

2. Communication skills

Children who have ADHD have poor listening skills. They may talk nonstop or often interject with others mid-conversation. Autistic children, on the flip side, find it challenging to express their thoughts and opinions, do not respond to nonverbal cues, struggle to maintain eye contact, and find it hard to change topics.

3. Structure and routine

Children with ADHD hate structure and routine. They often get bored easily with activities they consider uninteresting. Autistic children, on the contrary, thrive in routine and find it very hard to adhere to changes in structure.

Treatment for Autism vs ADHD

Commonly used treatments for autism include:

  • Medications to help with symptoms of autism such as anxiety
  • Speech therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Social skills therapy 
  • Occupational therapy

Commonly used treatments for ADHD include:

  • Behavioral therapy
  • Counseling
  • Skills coaching

Final Thoughts

While ADHD and autism are different conditions, they may be hard to tell apart. That said, it is very common for the two conditions to co-exist. Treatment options for the two neurological disorders are similar, but not the same. Therefore, it is vital to get the right diagnosis.

If you or someone you love is showing signs of one or both conditions, reach out to Brain Center TMS today. Book a free consultation to see if you or your loved one could benefit from TMS therapy for ADHD or for Autism. Our team can answer any questions you may have and give you a better understanding of our TMS protocol.

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