Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are two commonly diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorders that share some similarities but are also distinct from one another. While both ADHD and ASD can cause difficulties with social interactions, communication, and sensory processing, they have different diagnostic criteria and require different interventions.
Let’s break it down:
What are some of the similarities between ADHD and ASD?
- Impaired social skills: Children with both ADHD and ASD can struggle with social interactions, including making friends, maintaining eye contact, and understanding social cues.
- Impulsivity: Children with ADHD and ASD may exhibit impulsive behaviour, such as acting without thinking or interrupting others.
- Sensory processing difficulties: Children with ADHD and ASD may experience sensory processing difficulties, such as being oversensitive or undersensitive to sensory input.
- Executive function deficits: Both ADHD and ASD can impact executive function, which includes skills such as planning, organizing, and self-regulation.
- Comorbidity: ADHD and ASD frequently co-occur, meaning that a person may have both disorders simultaneously.
Let’s look at some of the differences:
- Core symptoms: ADHD is primarily characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, while ASD is characterized by difficulties with social communication and interaction, restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests, and sensory processing difficulties.
- Diagnosis: ADHD is typically diagnosed based on a combination of behavioural and subjective reports, while ASD requires a comprehensive evaluation that includes standardized assessments and observations.
- Treatment: The treatment for ADHD usually includes medication and behavioural interventions, while the treatment for ASD includes a combination of behavioural interventions, such as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), and individualized therapies, such as speech and occupational therapy.
- Prognosis: While ADHD symptoms may improve with age, ASD is a lifelong disorder that may require ongoing support and intervention.
Why ASD Diagnoses Get Missed in those with ADHD:
- Overlapping symptoms: Both ASD and ADHD can exhibit similar symptoms, such as inattention and hyperactivity, making it difficult to differentiate between the two disorders.
- Lack of assessment for social communication difficulties: ASD is characterized by difficulties in social communication and interaction, which may not be routinely assessed in ADHD evaluations, leading to missed ASD diagnoses.
- Diagnostic overshadowing: Symptoms of ASD may be overshadowed by symptoms of ADHD, leading to a missed or delayed ASD diagnosis. Additionally, many diagnostic tools used to assess ASD were formulated on norms taken from male subjects, and we now know that males and females can present differently. This creates a lot of difficulty for girls and women to get properly diagnosed.
- Co-occurring conditions: Children with ADHD may have other co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety or depression, which can complicate the diagnostic process and make it more difficult to identify an ASD diagnosis.
- Clinical experience: Some clinicians may have more experience diagnosing ADHD than ASD, which can lead to a missed or delayed ASD diagnosis.
Although this list is not exhaustive, you now know how ADHD and ASD can share some similarities even though they’re actually pretty different disorders. Although it’s highly possible for someone to have both, it’s important to get a full evaluation to make sure they’re diagnosed correctly and getting the right kind of help. Understanding the similarities and differences between ADHD and ASD can help families and healthcare providers identify and support those with these disorders.
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