Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often show overlapping symptoms. One common characteristic of someone with ADHD that can also happen with ASD is having trouble staying focused on a task. It can be challenging to get them to finish their homework or their chores. Another common trait of both ASD and ADHD is difficulty with social skills and communication challenges. They might find it difficult to make or maintain friendships and might have a hard time expressing themselves to others. It can be hard for them to maintain a daily schedule or complete self-care tasks like brushing their teeth or bathing daily.
These are just some of the ways that ADHD and autism can look alike. However, it’s important to know that ADHD and autism are two separate and distinct conditions. The traits of both ASD and ADHD can sometimes look similar, but they are two very different diagnoses.
Autism spectrum disorder specifically impacts a person’s social and communication skills, and includes the presence of specific restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behaviors. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, on the other hand, is more related to a person’s ability to attend or pay attention to specific things as well as their ability to regulate their behaviors particularly as it relates to being hyperactive or impulsive.
To clarify the core of what both ADHD and ASD are as clinical disorders, we’ll briefly review the DSM-5 criteria for each diagnosis. The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 5th edition) is a manual that includes all the mental disorders that are currently recognized by mental and behavioral health professionals. It helps provide consistency in assessing and treating the disorders.
Although there is a bit more complexity to diagnosing than simply reading a list of criteria, the criteria listed in the DSM-5 provide a foundation for understanding mental and behavioral health disorders.
To meet diagnostic criteria for ASD according to DSM-5, a child must have persistent deficits in each of three areas of social communication and interaction (see A.1. through A.3. below) plus at least two of four types of restricted, repetitive behaviors (see B.1. through B.4. below).
[A] Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):
[B] Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):
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People with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. The following criteria must be met to meet the criteria for ADHD
1. Inattention: Six or more symptoms of inattention [from the list below] for children up to age 16 years, or five or more for adolescents aged 17 years and older and adults; symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months, and they are inappropriate for developmental level:
2. Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity [from the list below] for children up to age 16 years, or five or more for adolescents aged 17 years and older and adults; symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been present for at least 6 months to an extent that is disruptive and inappropriate for the person’s developmental level:
Based on the types of symptoms, three kinds (presentations) of ADHD can occur:
Based on the criteria for an autism spectrum disorder or ADHD diagnosis, some of the symptoms of each disorder can show up in similar ways. For instance, having difficulty focusing for someone with ADHD can look like a person not paying attention to what someone else is saying. This same behavior can appear in someone with autism as it relates to difficulty with back-and-forth conversation and other social skills.
In 2014, researchers found that between 30 to 50 percent of people with ASD also have symptoms of ADHD. They are unsure why this is although there may be a gene that links both ASD and ADHD symptoms making it more common in people with this gene. However, it is also likely that both autism and ADHD can show up in certain behaviors and, therefore, contribute to the appearance that someone has either one or both conditions.
It is ideal to have trained professionals evaluate you or your loved one for autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or both so that you receive treatment according to what you are truly experiencing.
If you are looking for autism evaluations and diagnostic support in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, or Denver area, contact us by submitting a short form to schedule an evaluation today.
Autism and Impact on Mental Health