Published On: January 5, 2022
Updated On: January 3, 2023
As parents or caretakers, we want to ensure our children have the best opportunity to grow and develop, no matter the circumstance. Sometimes, those circumstances happen to be Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which require proper care and treatment as early as possible in your child’s development.
However, these two conditions often have cross-over behaviors, making it easy for professionals to conflate the two disorders, causing confusion and frustration as treatments don’t seem to help.
If you’re wondering, “Is ADHD on the Autism Spectrum,” you’re not alone. It’s a common thought, and knowing the difference is vital for providing our loved ones with the most accurate and effective care.
This blog will look at the following:
- Is ADHD on the autism spectrum?
- Can a person be diagnosed with both ADHD and autism?
- Signs of ADHD in children
- How to diagnose ADHD vs. autism
- Treatments for autism and ADHD
Is ADHD on the Autism Spectrum?
Though their symptoms are related in several ways, ADHD is not on the autism spectrum. However, in addition to sharing symptoms, there is a higher chance of being diagnosed with one following the other.
These correlative elements often confuse diagnosis and treatment, but it’s critical not to lump them together when pursuing treatments that should be intentionally targeted to each disorder.
ADHD or Autism?
ADHD and autism spectrum disorders often mirror each other, which isn’t much of a surprise – they’re both conditions that affect a child’s brain and developmental abilities. A child impacted by one or both conditions can have trouble with their abilities to communicate and focus, especially with social skills.
Parents, caretakers, and educators often make assumptions about a child’s behavior based on limited prior knowledge before a diagnosis. However, understanding key differences can make it easier to distinguish the two disorders and begin the process of accurate diagnosis and proper treatment that will enable your child’s success.
A typical difference in communication patterns is withdrawal vs. over-talking. A child with autism may struggle in social interactions and miss specific social cues, often making them shy or non-verbal in response. Conversely, ADHD is exhibited by non-stop chatter and domination in conversation.
Although these behaviors are typical to these particular disorders, observing them in your child doesn’t mean they have either. Avoid ‘guessing’ a diagnosis and consult a licensed therapist or professional to obtain a proper assessment of your child.
At What Age Does the ADHD Brain Fully Develop?
According to Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., Director of Chesapeake Psychological Services of Maryland and co-author shares that the brain’s frontal lobes, which are involved in ADHD, continue to mature until we reach age 35. Therefore, the ADHD brain is constantly developing until mid-adulthood.
Read More: Which Brain Lobe is Involved in ADHD?
Can a Person Be Diagnosed with Both ADHD and Autism?
Someone can be diagnosed with both autism and ADHD. The National Library of Medicine states that 50 to 70% of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also present with comorbid attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).children with ADHD for autism. The combination is more often diagnosed in children than adults, especially as ADHD has symptoms that can dissipate later in life.
ASD is considered a lifelong condition, and a diagnosis of autism often stops a search for further clinical diagnoses. However, it is worth knowing the similarities and differences to avoid misdiagnosing either condition.
- Both are neurodevelopmental disorders that affect the central nervous system
- Can lead to challenges with understanding others’ emotions or feelings
- Struggles with making and maintaining eye contact
- Both conditions are diagnosed at a higher rate in boys than girls
- Both are treatable, but there is no cure to alleviate symptoms permanently
- Autism symptoms can develop, present in children, and be diagnosed as early as 18 months; ADHD is more typically developed and diagnosable after age 7.
- Communication is more often delayed in autism vs. overstimulated in ADHD.
- ADHD symptoms can be effectively managed with prescription medication; Autism is rarely treated with prescription medication.
- Children with autism disengage or withdraw emotionally more often than children with ADHD.
These are just a few similarities and differences between ADHD and autism. It is important to remember that each child and their condition are different and must be treated uniquely despite common expectations for either disorder.
Signs of ADHD in Children
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) shares that an estimated 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults have ADHD. If you believe your child might have Attention Deficit / Hyperactive Disorder, some of the signs include the following:
- Interrupting people or having trouble waiting their turn
- Fidgeting or problems playing calmly
- Focusing on one task at a time or fidgeting
- Emotional responding
- Mood swings and outbursts
- Lack of focus
- Daydreaming or avoiding tasks in front of them
- Hyperactive and impulsive behaviors
- Repetitive behaviors
These symptoms may not all be present in a child with ADHD, and some may be more pronounced than others. However, if your child regularly exhibits several symptoms, you should consult a medical or psychological professional for an ADHD assessment.
How to Diagnose ADHD vs. Autism
The diagnosis of ADHD and ASD often involve some of the same medical professionals or child psychiatrists, but there are stark differences in when and how they are diagnosed.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders coins three main components of ASD:
- Impaired communication
- Impaired reciprocal social interaction
- Restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviors or interests
To properly diagnose autism, you should consult a doctor for a referral to an autism specialist. From there, someone at a reputable autism clinic should be able to perform tests or screenings to make a proper diagnosis.
ADHD symptoms typically appear during elementary school ages for children – around 7-9 years old. This may be because school environments require focus, organization, and performance based on these attributes, and they haven’t had opportunities for their symptoms to present themselves yet.
If you believe your child might need an ADHD diagnosis, make a list of possible symptoms and have educators document them. From there, confirm these with a doctor or a specialist, who can then perform observational screenings. Typically, ADHD screenings are performed after six months or more of persisting symptoms, so make sure to track them if your child is displaying these behaviors.
Treatments for Autism and ADHD
Although treatment for these two conditions is different, neither is perfectly defined or standard for all. ADHD sometimes relies on prescription medication, whereas autism does not.
However, we know about the treatment of both conditions because they require consistency and a sound support system to manage the symptoms of ADHD and ASD successfully. These include proper diagnoses and a network of parents, educators, clinicians, and specialists who address each case with evidence-based treatment. For autism, treatment is most effective through ABA therapy, a science-backed behavior therapy; as with either condition, early intervention can make a lifetime of difference for your child.
Get Proper Diagnosis and Treatment with Ally Pediatric Therapy
At Ally Pediatric Therapy, we’re committed to providing the resources for the correct diagnosis and treatment for children with ASD and ADHD.
Our team of ABA specialists and licensed clinicians will work with you and your family to ensure you have an evidence-based plan and resources to prepare and grow your child’s support system. If you’re looking to take the next steps toward a better life for you and your child, please reach out today. We’d love to help.