Autism and ADHD

Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are often compared and confused. Although some of the symptoms are certainly similar and may coincide, the two are different, and in this post, we’ll discuss the close relationship between the two.

Diagnostic Criteria

The similarities begin with autism and ADHD’s shared symptoms. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is used to define and describe the criteria by which doctors will diagnose a certain disorder. The symptoms used to diagnose both autism and ADHD overlap by quite a bit, and as such, studies suggest that as many as 30 to 80 percent of children who meet the diagnostic requirements for autism could also meet the requirements for ADHD. 

On the other hand anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of the children who meet the requirements for ADHD could meet the requirements for an autism diagnosis. The large overlap between these two has inspired researchers to look for common biological roots or shared causation. As enticing as it is to uncover more about these two disorders, the evidence produced thus far isn’t enough to support a direct connection. This makes it all the more important to ensure your child is diagnosed correctly.

Symptoms and Focus

The symptoms of autism are wide in variety and severity. That being said, there are more common symptoms that overlap with those who have ADHD. They include: 

  • Issues with social communication and language
  • Heightened sensitivity to sensory stimulation
  • Behavioral issues
  • Problems managing emotions or anxiety

Among others. Another common challenge with young children with either diagnosis is their focus or inattention. Lack of focus or intense hyperactivity is a primary symptom of ADHD and children on the spectrum can also struggle with these. This can leave parents wondering what the right diagnosis is for their child and in turn, which treatment is right for them.


The most important reason for having distinct definitions of both autism and ADHD is the way in which they are treated. For children on the spectrum, behavioral therapy like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the most effective way to treat symptoms. ADHD on the other hand is more commonly treated with specific medications. 

Treatments are determined by years of scientific research and careful clinical trials. Starting off with a thorough and precise diagnosis from a specialist will not only ensure you have a better understanding of your child’s symptoms but also that they receive the proper treatment. If you’re concerned your child may have a neurodevelopmental disorder like autism or ADHD, consult your doctor right away. Children with autism or ADHD who are diagnosed early and receive the right treatment can go on to lead independent and successful lives as they learn to manage their symptoms. 
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