Autism vs ADHD: What’s the Difference?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism are both neurodevelopmental disorders that share several symptoms. For example, people with autism and ADHD may both be impulsive, And people with both disorders may develop language later than children.

However, ADHD and autism are different diagnoses. It’s entirely possible to have ADHD and autism at the same time. When this happens (it happens often), Proper identification and treatment of both diseases is important.

In this article, you’ll explore how autism and ADHD are similar and different in symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

Symptoms of Autism and ADHD

Both autism and ADHD are described as neurodevelopmental disorders in the fifth edition. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

The descriptions of the two disorders do not overlap at any point, so it is reasonable to conclude that they are quite different from each other. In fact, it wasn’t until 2013 that both autism and ADHD were allowed to be diagnosed in the same person.

However, in 2013, double diagnosis became an accepted practice – the number of people with double diagnosis increased. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that about 14 percent of children with ADHD also have an autism diagnosis (though some estimates are much higher). More than half of children with autism may have symptoms of ADHD.

While ADHD and autism symptoms may look different on paper, they look very similar.

For example, traits such as distraction and impulsivity are part of a diagnosis of ADHD. Although they are not part of an autism diagnosis, they appear in most people with autism. Speech delays and traits are part of a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), not ADHD. However, people with ADHD often have speech delays.

ADHD and autism are often diagnosed in childhood, and symptoms can persist throughout a person’s life.


  • Delayed speech, unusual speech patterns, or lack of spoken language

  • Difficulty with social communication and social interaction

  • repetitive behaviors, such as rocking or pacing

  • Sensory challenges (under- or over-responsiveness to light, sound, taste, smell, touch)


  • Difficulty concentrating (difficulty concentrating)

  • Impulsivity (may blurt out or take inappropriate actions without thinking about them)

READ ALSO:  How to Diagnose Anxiety Disorder

Common symptoms of ADHD and autism

The reality is that many people diagnosed with ADHD or autism have overlapping or similar symptoms. Additionally, people with both disorders may experience difficulties that may not be listed as traditional symptoms but that affect daily life.

Here are some symptoms and challenges that people with ADHD and autism often share:

  • Impulsivity: including speaking inappropriately, jumping up when inappropriate
  • Difficulty concentrating: In ADHD, it is common to be distracted by external events, while in autism, distracted by one’s own thoughts and thoughts
  • Executive Functioning Problems: Difficulty with the ability to organize time, tasks, and projects
  • Challenges in social interaction and making friends
  • Learning Differences and Barriers
  • Sensory challenges: over- or under-reacting to light, sound, touch
  • Emotional immaturity: Difficulty managing anger and frustration

It’s important to note that these symptoms, while seemingly similar, can be caused by different causes. For example, the social challenges of autism may result from a lack of imitative language or body language skills. In contrast, the social challenges of ADHD can come from impulsivity, control, or an inability to conform to group expectations.


Researchers are still studying what causes autism and ADHD. There is no doubt that both ADHD and autism are heritable, which means they run in families. This means that both diseases have a genetic component. There are also environmental issues that can lead to autism, ADHD, or both.

Researchers are currently exploring how differences in brain structure and chemistry contribute to autism, ADHD and other developmental disorders.

Causes of ADHD

According to the CDC, risk factors for ADHD include:

  • Brain Injury
  • parental exposure to environmental risks (such as lead in paint) during pregnancy or at a young age
  • Parental use of alcohol and tobacco during pregnancy
  • Early delivery
  • low birth weight

Causes of Autism

In addition to brain damage, all risk factors for ADHD are also risk factors for autism. In addition, autism can be caused by specific genetic developmental disorders such as Fragile X syndrome and fetal exposure to specific drugs (valproic acid and thalidomide). Older parents are also more likely to have children with autism, but it’s unclear why.

READ ALSO:  What is Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD)?


There are no medical tests for ADHD or autism. Diagnosis of both relies on observations, interviews, and assessments of development and behavior. Before making a diagnosis of autism or ADHD, practitioners conduct tests and ask questions to rule out other factors that may be contributing to attention problems, such as anxiety or learning disabilities.

In most cases, autism and ADHD are diagnosed in young children. The process begins when a pediatrician screens a child for symptoms by asking a series of questions about the child’s development and behavior. If screening indicates the need for further testing, the pediatrician will recommend a full evaluation.

Both autism and ADHD, especially mild ones, can be diagnosed in adults. Usually, the diagnosis comes from a psychologist or psychiatrist, but may also come from a general practitioner.

Assessments for autism or ADHD are usually performed by a team of specialists. Some professions represented may include:

  • Developmental Pediatrician: A doctor with special training in child development
  • Child Psychologist and/or Child Psychiatrist: Specialist in child psychology and mental health issues
  • Neuropsychologist: A physician who focuses on assessing cognitive and behavioral function
  • Speech Pathologist: A therapist who specializes in speech, hearing, and swallowing problems
  • Occupational Therapist: A therapist who specializes in helping people with activities of daily living

During the assessment, experts use a variety of different tests to determine a child’s intelligence quotient (IQ), speech and language skills, and behavior. They also asked parents some questions about their child’s development. They may also ask parents to fill out questionnaires about their child’s behavior, growth, medical history, and more.


While the diagnosis and causes of autism and ADHD may be similar, the treatments are often quite different. Part of the reason is that there are medications for ADHD that don’t directly treat autism.

It’s also important to note that, unlike ADHD, autism is a spectrum disorder. This means that some people have mild and severe autism – severe autism can be extremely disabled.

Autism Treatment

There are various treatments for autism, depending on the particular needs of the individual. However, the most common include:

  • Medications: Medications can help relieve certain symptoms such as anxiety.
  • Behavioral therapy: This therapy builds specific skills and reduces negative behaviors, such as breakdowns in self-control.
  • Speech therapy: Some people with autism have severe speech delays or do not speak language at all, while others have difficulty with conversation and socializing.
  • Occupational Therapy: Many people with autism have fine motor and/or sensory impairments and have difficulty getting around bright lights and loud noises.
  • Social Skills Therapy: Most people with autism need help learning how to interact socially, form friendships, and manage their emotions.
READ ALSO:  What is music therapy?

Autism Treatment and Therapy

ADHD Treatment

Most people with ADHD are at least partially treated with medication to help reduce impulsivity and increase focus. These drugs may be stimulants or non-stimulants, and the choice of treatment may depend on the patient’s age. Additionally, treatment may include:

  • Skills Training
  • counseling
  • Behavioral therapy, because ADHD-related behaviors are somewhat different from autism-related behaviors, but can also cause serious problems at school or work

How is ADHD treated?


ADHD and autism aren’t the same disorder, but they can be difficult to tell apart. Also, it is very common for a person to have both diagnoses at the same time. The treatments for these two diseases are similar but not the same, so it is important to get a correct diagnosis or diagnosis.

Both disorders are usually diagnosed in childhood by a pediatric psychologist, developmental pediatrician, or other specialist. Adults may be diagnosed by a primary care provider, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

VigorTip words

Both autism and ADHD are relatively common diagnoses, so there is extensive planning and support for people with both disorders. What’s more, most people with one or both disorders can lead full and productive lives.

The key to success with one or both diagnoses is getting the diagnosis as soon as possible and taking advantage of the treatment, planning, and support available. Remember, children with autism and/or ADHD are entitled to a range of school-based treatments and accommodations.

Likewise, adults with autism are often eligible for support services and funding opportunities. Adults with any medical condition are entitled to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodations at school and in the workplace.