Autism or ADHD: What’s the Difference?

by | Last updated Apr 22, 2021

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Autism or ADHD?

Misdiagnosis can be a very frustrating experience. Although Autism and ADHD share a lot of commonalities, there are some marked differences to note. Read on to learn how to tell between the two.

Autism is a diagnosis identifying difficulty with social reciprocity and restricted or repetitive patterns or interests. ADHD is a diagnosis recognizing inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity that impacts a child across more than one setting or environment. At times, ADHD can also cause social impairment. Similarly, there are times when autism attributes can lead to attention challenges. Difficulty shifting attention is actually quite common for autism.

What is autism, exactly?

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders often struggle with conversational reciprocity. When evaluated through social tasks, a child may fail to let the other person have a chance to speak. He may give a lecture about the Hubble Telescope or tell you every detail about his pet dog. When you say in turn “Oh, I have some pets,” this statement is often met with no response. Other times, it might be met with a change of subject or an awkwardly long pause followed by a forced, “Oh, cool.”

Children with Autism tend to have challenges with flexible conversation because taking others’ perspectives is challenging. It is also hard for children with autism to read other people because they rarely pay attention to nonverbal cues. Children with ASD also struggle to make well-coordinated eye contact, so they can miss the clues indicating that their conversation partner is bored. These children also tend to have restricted interests. They really enjoy talking about a certain subject, which may quickly bore another child who does not share that interest. 

The low-down on ADHD

Like Autism, inattention associated with ADHD can lead to challenges. For example, failing to pay attention to other people impacts the quality of conversations. Another common market of these kids is a “bull-in-a-china-shop” energy.  They may accidentally interrupt others or bump into them, and this behavior can greatly impede social experiences.

When Autism & ADHD Overlap

Many children with autism are first diagnosed with ADHD. That diagnosis is not necessarily wrong. Up to 60% of children on the autism spectrum may also have ADHD. 

Here are a couple instances where diagnosis can get into a gray area:

  • Focused attention: Children on the spectrum tend to be internally distracted, and they often become hyper-focused on something in their head. In those moments, they might look like they’re struggling to focus, which is a marker of ADHD. 
  • Defiant behavior: Sometimes, children with Autism struggle to shift attention effectively. For example, long after the rest of the class has completed an activity, this child may find herself still deeply engrossed. To the untrained eye, this behavior may seem like the result of inattentive or defiant behavior. 

What to do 

If you’re a parent and are confused about overlapping diagnosis, Clear can help.

These complexities make it incredibly important to have a thorough evaluation with a trained clinician – someone who really understands autism and all its related symptoms and diagnoses. It can be very confusing for a parent to navigate on their own.

We take great care when diagnosing because we know that accurate diagnosis followed by effective treatment can truly help a struggling child grow up to live their best life. 

We’re Here to Help 

You don’t have to do this alone. Schedule a FREE 20-minute discovery session for help sorting through the complexities of your individual child. Start getting support for your family’s unique path and learn more about our coaching and consultation options.

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