The Sudden Rise of AuDHD : Coexistence of ADHD and Autism

AuDHD refers to having both autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). There are a few reasons why we have seen a sudden rise in AuDHD. Let’s explore the similarities and differences between ASD (autism) and ADHD. We will also go over the reasons why AuDHD is becoming more common.

How are Autism and ADHD Similar?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are two distinct neurodevelopmental disorders, but they can sometimes present with overlapping symptoms. This overlap can make diagnosis challenging, especially since both conditions can co-occur in the same individual. Here are some of the overlapping symptoms:

Impulsivity and Hyperactivity

Both ADHD and some individuals with ASD may exhibit impulsivity and hyperactivity. In ADHD, these symptoms are more prominent, while in ASD, they may be present but not necessarily to the same degree. ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity although there is a type of ADHD that is characterized by less hyperactivity and is more predominantly characterized by inattentive symptoms. Also, in autism, some people don’t display hyperactivity but may only display hyperactivity as it is expressed through repetitive behaviors (or stimming) or when they are engaged in special interests. This varies from person to person.

Inattention and Difficulty with Focus

Both ADHD and ASD can involve difficulties with attention and focus. Individuals with ASD may have specific interests or areas of intense focus, which can sometimes be mistaken for attention-related issues. It can be difficult for people with ADHD to maintain focus on tasks because they get easily distracted. People with autism might struggle with focusing on tasks especially if they are not motivated to complete that task or if they are fixated on something else.

Executive Functioning Difficulties

Executive functioning skills, such as planning, organizing, and prioritizing tasks, can be impaired in both ADHD and ASD. This can manifest as difficulty with time management, organization, and completing tasks.

Social Challenges

While social difficulties are a hallmark feature of ASD, they can also be present in ADHD, particularly in the form of impulsivity and difficulties with social cues and interactions.

Sensory Sensitivities

Both ADHD and ASD may involve sensory sensitivities, such as sensitivity to noise, touch, or certain textures.

Emotional Dysregulation

Both conditions can involve difficulties with emotional regulation, leading to mood swings, outbursts, meltdowns, or feeling burned out.

It’s important to note that while there are overlapping symptoms, there are also differences between the two disorders. For example, individuals with ASD typically have more pronounced social communication challenges, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors, which are not primary symptoms of ADHD.

How are Autism and ADHD Different?

As mentioned, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are both neurodevelopmental disorders but have distinct characteristics. Here are some key differences between ADHD and ASD:

Core Symptoms

ADHD: The core symptoms of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Individuals with ADHD may have difficulty sustaining attention on tasks, may be easily distracted, have trouble following through on instructions, and may often fidget or squirm. Impulsivity may lead to acting without thinking and interrupting others.

ASD: The core symptoms of ASD involve challenges in social communication and interaction, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors. Social communication difficulties may manifest as challenges in understanding social cues, difficulty in developing and maintaining relationships, and atypical communication patterns. Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors can involve intense focus on specific topics or activities, adherence to routines, and repetitive movements or mannerisms.

Social Skills

ADHD: While individuals with ADHD may struggle with social skills, such as impulse control and recognizing social cues, their social difficulties are primarily related to the impulsivity and hyperactivity characteristic of the disorder.

ASD: Social difficulties are a hallmark feature of ASD. Individuals with ASD may have significant challenges in understanding social norms, forming relationships, and engaging in reciprocal social interactions. These difficulties often go beyond what would be expected for their developmental level.

Repetitive Behaviors and Restricted Interests

ADHD: While individuals with ADHD may engage in repetitive behaviors to a certain extent, these behaviors are not a defining feature of the disorder. Their repetitive behaviors are typically related to impulsivity or hyperactivity and may not be as pronounced as those seen in ASD.

ASD: Repetitive behaviors and restricted interests are core features of ASD. These behaviors can include repetitive movements (such as hand-flapping or rocking), adherence to rigid routines, and intense focus on specific topics or objects.

Sensory Sensitivities

ADHD: Sensory sensitivities can occur in individuals with ADHD, but they are not a defining characteristic of the disorder.

ASD: Sensory sensitivities are common in individuals with ASD. They may experience heightened sensitivity or reduced sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as sound, touch, taste, or smell.

Onset and Presentation

ADHD: Symptoms of ADHD often become apparent in early childhood, typically before the age of 12. The presentation of symptoms may vary depending on the subtype of ADHD (predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, or combined presentation).

ASD: Symptoms of ASD are usually present from early childhood and persist throughout the individual’s lifespan. However, the severity of symptoms and the way they present can vary widely among individuals.

Rates of ADHD and Autism

Let’s look at the rates of Autism and ADHD separately.

Rates of ADHD

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children. The prevalence of ADHD varies across different populations and can be influenced by factors such as geographical location, cultural differences, diagnostic criteria, and methods of assessment.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) periodically releases data on the prevalence of ADHD based on surveys and studies. According to the CDC, as of their last report, approximately 9.4% of children aged 2-17 years had ever been diagnosed with ADHD in the United States. Additionally, the prevalence of diagnosed ADHD was higher among boys (12.9%) than girls (5.6%).

It’s important to note that the prevalence of ADHD may differ in other countries and regions. Additionally, diagnosis rates can vary over time due to changes in awareness, diagnostic criteria, and access to healthcare services.

Rates of ASD

The prevalence rates of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been increasing globally over the past few decades. However, it’s important to note that this increase may be attributed to various factors, including heightened awareness, changes in diagnostic criteria, increased access to services, and better identification of individuals with ASD across all levels of intellectual functioning.

As of the latest available data, the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder varies across different studies and regions, but it’s generally estimated to affect around 1-2% of the population worldwide. However, prevalence rates can vary significantly depending on factors such as age, sex, geographic location, and socioeconomic status.

In the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of ASD was estimated to be approximately 1 in 54 children based on the most recent data available. This estimate is based on data collected through the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, which provides prevalence estimates for ASD among children aged 8 years in specific communities across the United States.

In other countries, prevalence rates may differ based on factors such as diagnostic practices, cultural attitudes towards autism, and availability of resources for diagnosis and support. Additionally, prevalence rates may vary within different subgroups of the population, such as individuals with intellectual disabilities or other co-occurring conditions.

Co-occurrence of ADHD and ASD

The co-occurrence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is relatively common, with research indicating that a significant portion of individuals diagnosed with ASD also meet the criteria for ADHD, and vice versa. Estimates of the co-occurrence rates vary across studies, but research suggests the following:

Among Individuals with ASD

  • Estimates of co-occurring ADHD vary widely but often range from about 30% to 80%, depending on the study population, diagnostic criteria, and methodology used. The Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine reports that up to 50% of people with ASD also have symptoms of ADHD.
  • Some studies suggest that individuals with ASD who have higher intellectual abilities may be more likely to have co-occurring ADHD.
  • The presence of ADHD symptoms in individuals with ASD can impact various aspects of functioning, including social interactions, academic performance, and adaptive functioning.

Among Individuals with ADHD

  • Estimates of co-occurring ASD in individuals with ADHD vary but generally fall in the range of 20% to 50%, again depending on the study. The Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine reports that up to 25% of people with ADHD also have symptom of ASD.
  • The presence of ASD symptoms in individuals with ADHD can also affect various areas of functioning, including social skills, communication, and sensory processing.

It’s important to note that the co-occurrence of ADHD and ASD presents unique challenges in diagnosis, treatment, and intervention. These challenges arise because the symptoms of ADHD and ASD can overlap, making it difficult to distinguish between the two disorders, particularly in individuals with higher intellectual abilities.

Sudden Rise in AuDHD

One of the primary reasons why AuDHD is on the rise is the fact that professionals could not diagnose both autism and ADHD in one individual until 2013. Both diagnoses could not be co-occurring from the standpoint of receiving official diagnoses. If someone was to receive a diagnosis of ADHD or autism, they could not also receive the other diagnosis until the medical community changed the criteria for mental health diagnosis in 2013 by updating the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the formal manual used by therapists and psychologists who diagnose mental disorders.

Although the term AuDHD is not a formal diagnosis, professionals can now diagnose both ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder if the person meets the criteria for both disorders. However, it does take a skilled professional to identify when both conditions exist as sometimes symptoms of one diagnosis might be more prominent while symptoms of the other diagnosis might be less noticeable even when both conditions impact the person’s day to day life in different ways. For example, ADHD symptoms might be more noticeable at home while autism symptoms might be more noticeable in social situations.

Also, more research is finding that there is a significant genetic overlap (approximately a 50-72% overlap) between the two conditions meaning that genetics plays a role in the existence of ADHD and autism to some extent and, more specifically, certain genetics can lead to having both ADHD and autism.

Other research suggests that the co-occurrence of ADHD and Autism may be due to shared neurobiological mechanisms, such as those involving executive functioning, attention, and reward systems. For example, the parts of the brain that impact things like organization, planning, paying attention, and obtaining and managing dopamine are similar for people with ADHD and for people with autism

AuDHD is on the rise and is becoming more well-known, in part, by the way that the internet is able to spread information to the mass public by helping people learn more about themselves and giving them the guidance they need to start exploring who they are and how they function. The term “AuDHD”, as mentioned, is not officially a diagnosis but it has been informally adopted by the neurodivergent community. This is a way of identifying and celebrating the unique experiences of the neurodivergent (Autistic-ADHDers) experience.


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