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Adult ADHD and Autism Link: Symptoms and Treatment

February 6, 2018 Noelle Matteson

ADHD and autism spectrum disorder often overlap. Read more to learn about ADHD and autism symptoms, why it happens, and what it means for treatment options.

There is an overlap between ADHD and autism, although at first glance the conditions can appear to be opposites. According to stereotypes, people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) concentrate too much and avoid overstimulation, while those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) lack focus and seek constant stimulation. However, there is a huge overlap between ASD and ADHD. As I’ve written about the connection between ADHD and trauma and ADHD and PMS, I’d like to discuss the link between ADHD and ASD.

The Overlap Between ADHD and Autism

Only recently have psychiatrists accepted that ADHD and autism can occur together. Before 2013, the American Psychiatric Association denied that someone could have both diagnoses.1 Now, studies reveal a very high comorbidity between ADHD and autism. (Comorbidity is when two or more disorders appear in the same person.) Between one fifth and one half of ADHDers show symptoms of ASD, and at least half of those with ASD demonstrate symptoms of ADHD. 2

These disorders might share a genetic link. Researchers found that ADHD was four times more likely than the average person to appear in someone with a fraternal twin on the autism spectrum and 18 times more likely if an identical twin had ASD.3

Similar Symptoms in ASD and ADHD

The website Understood has an excellent chart comparing traits of children with ASD to those with ADHD.4 In very broad terms, ASD involves communication problems while ADHD involves issues with self-regulation.

In spite of underlying differences, the disorders share a range of symptoms: excessive movement, impulsivity, emotional meltdowns, overstimulation, and extreme focus on a single interest (yes, even people with ADHD deal with perseveration or hyperfocus). These issues take their tolls in numerous ways, from having troubles forming friendships to lacking proper safety awareness.

Neurologists are starting to look at autism in a different way. They have noticed the overlap between ADHD and autism (as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder and various learning disabilities) and are studying children with multiple conditions. This research aims to investigate which parts of the brain produce which symptoms. Because there is a wide and overlapping spectrum of symptoms between several disorders, findings could lead to more specific diagnoses and treatments.5

How to Treat Adult ADHD and Autism

It is frustrating that most of these studies focus on educating parents of children with these conditions. Many adults do not have parents to guide them through their mental disorders and are trying to cope on their own. It is also disheartening for adults with ADHD or ASD to read about how crucial it is to identify and treat these disorders as early as possible.

Still, it is good that new discoveries are being made, and available advice can still help adults. Many treatments work for both ADHD and autism. These include therapy, exercise, appropriate medications, and established routines. Those with ADHD can especially benefit from tutoring in organization and time management, while people with autism might need additional help with speech, sensory issues, and social skills.

I hope scientists continue to discover information that reduces stigma and helps people with ADHD and autism spectrum disorder live happy lives. In the comments, let me know what you think and if you or someone you know lives with both of these disorders.

Sources

  1. Healthline. The Relationship Between ADHD and Autism.
  2. ADDitude. Kay Marner. Is It ADHD or Autism? Or Both?
  3. Spectrum. Bahar Gholipour. Shared genetic pathways underlie autism, attention deficit.
  4. Understood. Amanda Morin. The Difference Between ADHD and Autism.
  5. The Globe and Mail. Wency Leung. ADHD, OCD, autism: Is it time to redraw the boundaries separating childhood behavioural disorders?

APA Reference
Matteson, N. (2018, February 6). Adult ADHD and Autism Link: Symptoms and Treatment, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingwithadultadhd/2018/02/identifying-and-treating-adhd-and-autism



Author: Noelle Matteson

Find Noelle on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and her blog.

Damon
says:
December, 26 2018 at 11:50 pm
I’m 37 yrs old and have struggled for all 37 yrs. I was born with FAS, depression, and ADHD. I’ve always felt different, like I didn’t belong. The last few yrs have been an enormous struggle. I would always say “there is something else that is wrong with me”. Last yr I saw a tv serious A Typical. I could relate with some of what the character was going through. What I just read blew my mind. It was so much weight lifted of my shoulders. There may be something that can help me. Thank you so much for this
January, 1 2019 at 3:37 pm
Hm, I would say the very best way is to see a therapist or doctor who specializes in autism spectrum disorder. You could also do some more research first, read or watch interviews with people with the condition and their descriptions of it, and take a couple online psychological tests. Best wishes!
struart
says:
October, 11 2018 at 11:24 am
AS LONG AS U DONT COME APART FROM ADULT elvanse they do a proper job. its my 9th month this year.
stuart burrows
says:
October, 11 2018 at 11:23 am
i have ASD adhd and autism. i how all symptons. when food shopping i shoew autism and in the home and adhd. im on treatment called elvanse i need some zenzidis on top or want 70 mg. my 50 mg do a good response.
Sherry Skelly
says:
September, 18 2018 at 10:16 am
My son is now 22 years old. He was diagnosed with ADHD in 4th grade but I've always felt there was more to it. A teacher suggested the likelihood of Aspergers but the "specialist" did not agree. As the years have gone by, I know he is on the spectrum. He is highly intelligent - just graduated college with a degree in Communications. He, however, has difficulty relating to others as well as understanding others' body language and prefers spending time alone with his computer & video games. He likes routine but is not as bad as he used to be - we used to see tantrums when he was young. We are at a very frustrating point right now as he is having difficulty finding a job (not sure why) and we are unsure what his future holds. I think he would like more interaction with people but it is very uncomfortable for him. He has no close friends and has never had a relationship. Am I just being a worry wort parent?
September, 21 2018 at 12:26 pm
It seems very natural to want your son to be as happy as possible (including having a healthy social life)! I think it can be difficult to distinguish between ADHD, autism, and sometimes OCD--even for experts. Perhaps an ADHD coach or a second opinion from another specialist on autism spectrum disorder would help? Best of luck, and thank you for your comment.
Meg
says:
July, 25 2018 at 1:07 am
It is refreshing to see multiple diagnoses addressed here. As a parent of a young adult with diagnoses of both adhd-inatentive and level one autism I can attest to the extreme trials of the impact of my daughters rare genetically based condition for which both ADHD and autism amongst other conditions are attributed. I am hopeful for the future to hold more opportunity for study, treatment and acceptance of adults living with multiple diagnoses.
XianJaneway
says:
February, 22 2018 at 7:23 pm
Oh my gosh, it's astounding to me that my daughter could *not* have been properly diagnosed until 2013.
I owe everything about the success of her treatment to Gina Pera, author of "Is it You, Me, or Adult ADD?" My daughter's behavior had been attributed entirely to Asperger's syndrome & personality, but I could see that there was *something else going on*. She now has five different diagnoses: ADHD, OCD, Sensory Processing Disorder, an Eating Disorder, and Asperger's syndrome. We had a HORRIBLE time teasing all of these disorders out, but she's finally *starting* on the road to a full recovery.
Thank you for continuing the research. All of the work I've done helping my kids has driven me to the medical field, and I'll be applying to PA school in 2-3 years. Hopefully I can specialize in psychiatry. Thanks so much!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 24 2018 at 2:38 pm
Yes, it's strange how much things have changed and are continuing to change! I will definitely check out Gina Pera. What you say makes so much sense. I think a lot of people believe that being diagnosed with one condition is rare and multiple conditions is even rarer, but I'm realizing how common that is. And it makes perfect sense since none of these issues are strict boxes; <em>of course</em> people are going to fall in between multiple diagnoses. It's so cool that you're becoming more involved in psychiatry. Thank you so much for visiting!

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