Though distinct conditions, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can occur at the same time.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism are different conditions that can share similar symptoms. Some ADHD symptoms occur in autistic people and vice versa. This is called symptom overlap.
But having overlapping symptoms, especially if they happen frequently, can sometimes indicate both conditions are occurring together.
But there’s conflicting evidence on how common it is. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that out of the 60% of children with ADAHD who have at least one other mental disorder,
Meanwhile, there are conflicting numbers regarding the percentage of autistic people who also have ADHD. One recent study found it to be 38 to 40%.
The reasons why ADHD and autism may co-occur aren’t clear. Still, according to
- genetic factors, which may be why some families have children with ADHD, autism, or both
- similar brain structure differences
- higher likelihood of occurring in males
- similar challenges with social interactions, executive functioning, and language delays
Researchers also suggest that ADHD symptoms are more likely to be found in autistic folks. Whereas people with ADHD are less likely to experience symptoms of autism.
Also, sometimes, the symptoms of ADHD and autism can be subtle and hard to identify. This often leads to later diagnosis when both conditions occur together.
According to one research review, the average age a child receives an ADHD diagnosis ranges from 4.9 years to 9.8 years. But the average age a child is diagnosed with autism is 3.5 years to 6.2 years.
Symptoms of ADHD tend to first appear in childhood and can range from mild to severe. But some people with ADHD aren’t diagnosed until they’re adults. Symptoms can also vary depending on the type of ADHD.
The three types of ADHD are:
- Inattentive: People may find paying attention, staying organized, or finishing tasks challenging.
- Hyperactive-impulsive: Symptoms include restlessness, fidgeting, and talking excessively.
- Combined: A combination of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive types.
Autism is a pervasive neurodevelopmental disorder that shows up in early childhood.
Symptoms of autism include difficulties with:
- verbal and nonverbal communication
- sensory processing
- social interaction
Autistic people may also experience challenges with behavioral patterns.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) classifies autism by the level of support an autistic person needs daily.
- Level 1: requires some support
- Level 2: needs more support
- Level 3: requires more substantial support
A person with ADHD may have attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity challenges. But an autistic individual may have difficulties with communication, social interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviors.
These differences are often difficult to sort out. But sometimes, when a child with ADHD and autism receives medications to manage ADHD symptoms, the symptoms of autism become clearer.
Still, according to one
People who are autistic and have ADHD can manage the symptoms. A mental health professional specializing in autism and ADHD can help develop a treatment plan that addresses the specific symptoms.
Some management strategies to consider include:
Therapies such as
However, 2018 research suggests that for some autistic people, ABA therapy can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), though this was based largely on anecdotal evidence. More support is needed for this claim from peer-reviewed journals.
Also, psychotherapy and behavioral management interventions may help with ADHD symptoms.
Learning organizational skills
For some people, overlapping symptoms of ADHD and autism include difficulties with executive function, such as managing time and tasks.
Treatment options for autism and ADHD can also include caring for yourself, so you’re better able to manage symptoms. This could include:
- regular exercise
- eating a healthy diet
- learning ways to cope with stress
Because autism and ADHD may share similar factors, including genetic links and brain structure differences, it’s not surprising both can occur together. But it’s challenging to determine how common it is.
Still, there are effective methods to cope with the overlapping symptoms.
A mental health professional can help you develop a treatment plan that could include medications or behavioral therapies. If you need help finding a therapist, Psych Central’s Mental Health Hub may be helpful.
Also, the key to tending to your well-being if you’re experiencing ADHD and autism symptoms is implementing self-care strategies such as exercise and stress management into your daily routine.