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Autism and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are both neurodevelopmental conditions that affect a person’s ability to focus. Both conditions can appear the same when you consider a child who is struggling to sit still, pay attention, and concentrate for long periods of time. Because of these deficits, autism and ADHD ultimately cause struggles with social skills and communication with others.
While they may share external behaviors, there are distinct differences between the two conditions that set them apart. ADHD is marked by impulsivity, forgetfulness, being constantly on the go, interrupting, and difficulty following directions or staying on task. Autism, in general, is commonly marked by deficits in communication, inability to make eye contact, and repetitive verbal or physical behaviors.
Some Key Differences Between ADHD & Autism
Children with autism tend to have more sensory issues than their peers who have ADHD. Sights, sounds, smells, textures, and various environments can be overwhelming to a child with autism. This is not to discount the fact that children with ADHD may struggle with sensory issues as well. However, it is more frequently seen in children with autism.
Speech issues are another distinct difference between ADHD and Autism. Most children with ADHD follow a typical developmental time frame with speech, while children with autism can very often be delayed in speech development. In fact, some children with autism can remain non verbal indefinitely.
True to the nature of autism being a “spectrum” disorder, there is always a range of severity when it comes to the deficits that are characteristic of autism. With regard to speech development, while some children with autism are extremely or indefinitely delayed- others are extremely advanced in their speech. Children with high functioning autism are often referred to as “little professors” because of their advanced speech and hyperfixation or obsession with certain areas of interest. Children with ADHD do not typically display deficits in speech and language skills.
Perseveration (super focus or obsession with a topic) is common with children who have autism. This is most notable when they obsess on a topic or an activity so persistently that they cannot seem to transition to any other activity or topic of conversation. Children with ADHD have a greater tendency to move from one activity or topic to another rather quickly due to their impulsivity and limited ability to focus on one thing for an extended period of time.
Children with autism have difficulty with non verbal communication and often need to be taught to recognize facial expressions, gestures, and body language in order to respond appropriately when the people they are speaking with become bored, frustrated, or upset with the conversation. Children with ADHD have similar communication deficits but many of their communication deficits are due to frustration or intolerance with non-preferred environments or tasks which can lead to inappropriate behaviors such as verbal aggression, physical aggression, or meltdowns.
Finally, one of the biggest differences between ADHD and autism is body movements. Both of these conditions come with a lot of activity and body motion. Children with ADHD are often described by parents, educators, and physicians as “driven by a motor”. These children are constantly in movement from one thing to the next. Children with autism tend to move their bodies with repetitive motions in order to soothe themselves. This usually presents itself in rocking motions, hand flapping, pacing, and other repetitive and unproductive movements.
In general, it could be stated that many of the traits of autism are internal while ADHD is more external. However, this would be a heavy generalization. The best summation of the similarities and differences between these two conditions is that while they share many traits- autism presents extra challenges in teaching appropriate social, communication, and behavioral responses.
Can you have ADHD and Autism together?
To put it simply, yes you can have ADHD and Autism together and this is frequently the case with many children who are diagnosed on the spectrum.
“ In a recent nationally representative sample from United States, in children diagnosed with ASD, the rate of comorbidity with ADHD was 42% and the rate of comorbidity with ADHD and learning disability (LD) was 17%, resulting in a 59% total comorbidity rate of ADHD and ASD.”
It is important to be aware of this statistic because this combination can result in additional challenges that need to be addressed, and they can be! In a comparison study of children with only Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) and children with both ASD and ADHD, the children who were diagnosed with both ASD and ADHD “showed higher symptoms of anxiety, worse working memory, and less empathy, as measured by the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes.”(RMET) The RMET is a diagnostic test for measuring a person’s ability to “recognize complex mental states” by observing the expression conveyed through another person’s eyes.
For children who have both ASD and ADHD, the increased anxiety, memory deficits and lack of empathy can make intervention and assessment more difficult.
Why do kids with ADHD act out?
Children with ADHD are tightly wound and fast moving. Not only do they move fast in a physical sense, but they also tend to move fast mentally and emotionally.
Some of the most commonly observed traits in children with ADHD are quick tempers and their tendency to be easily bored. Children with ADHD will often have short, quick bursts of interest and then move on to something else. When there is nothing else available to them to keep their interest and activity level moving forward, these children often display negative or inappropriate behaviors.
In addition to this, children with ADHD are impatient and easily frustrated. When these children want access to something interesting, they want access immediately. If something is boring or repetitive, they may argue or act out to get out of the boring or repetitive activity.
These emotional responses can be difficult to work through. Especially in conjunction with autism. Many parents will simply allow the child to get out of completing a task or behaving inappropriately just to avoid tantrums and upheavals. However, allowing a child to get their way by acting inappropriately only serves to reinforce the inappropriate behavior.
So, what can a parent or caregiver of a child with ASD and ADHD do to work through some of these behaviors?
How can I help my child with ADHD and Autism?
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the number one method of treatment for children with autism and other neurological and developmental disorders. It is the most recommended form of behavioral therapy because it is an evidence based science that has helped countless families for decades.
Based on the work of B.F. Skinner and the principles of operant conditioning, ABA is used to reinforce socially appropriate behaviors and reduce or eliminate socially inappropriate behaviors in order to facilitate a greater quality of life for children with autism and for their families.
Circle Care Services in New Jersey is an ABA agency that works with children and their families who struggle with the effects of autism and other pervasive developmental disorders. At Circle Care, we help children with autism to increase social skills, communication skills, and even academic skills. By learning expected and socially appropriate behaviors, children with autism and other neurological deficits are able to enjoy the benefits of joining their typically developing peers in the classroom, in the community and in all of the various social settings that we are exposed to on a daily basis.
At Circle Care Services, we have highly skilled professionals that are ready to help you and your family with a customized treatment plan right away. Call us for a consultation now!Read More