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The Difference Between Autism And ADHD

ADHD vs Autism

As more is learned about Autism and ADHD each year, it’s now known that there is an overlap in symptoms between the two conditions. According to the CDC, about 10% of children have ADHD and about 2% of children have autism. Studies also showed that about 60% of children with ADHD also had another mental or behavioral disorder, with 14% of those instances being a child with both ADHD and autism. 

Both of these conditions are lifelong and can alter the way a person interacts with the world. They also can vary in how severely they impact day-to-day life in comparison to how someone without autism or ADHD experiences their day. 

Here at SUN Behavioral Health in Columbus, we believe in the importance of education about mental health. Half the battle of managing your symptoms is having an understanding of the condition itself. 

What Is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder. This means that symptoms generally show up within the first years of life. This doesn’t mean, however, that people can’t be diagnosed much later in life. 

Autism primarily affects social behaviors and sensory issues, but these are not the only two symptoms of autism. As is said in the name, autism is a wide spectrum of a certain classification of symptoms that can present themselves in different intensities for each individual. 

Here are some of the most common behaviors that are indicative of autism:

  • Having difficulty with eye contact
  • Being unaware of social cues
  • Facial expressions or body language that doesn’t match the emotions they’re expressing
  • Difficulties in empathizing or understanding other points of view
  • Having intense and lasting interests in specific topics
  • Difficulties involving slight upsets in a change of routine
  • Having sensory sensitivity involving lights, textures, sounds, or other stimulants  

It’s important to note that just as no two people are the same, neither are two people with autism the same. Their particular sensitivities and interests will vary just like any other person’s would. 

What Is ADHD?

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is also a developmental disorder. Most commonly, ADHD is something someone is born with, just like autism. Unlike autism, however, ADHD can develop after serious brain trauma as well. 

While many people, especially children, might experience one or two of the symptoms of ADHD in their life, in order to be classified as having ADHD these symptoms are experienced more often, and with more intensity. ADHD is also not something that is grown out of, but rather a lifelong condition that affects the way the brain functions.

ADHD can impact daily life in many ways, from making it difficult to focus on important tasks to having trouble remembering daily routines. Here are some of the common signs and symptoms of ADHD:

  • Difficulty maintaining attention, including becoming easily sidetracked
  • Difficulty with time management
  • Find it difficult to start tasks that require a lot of mental focus or energy 
  • Easily miss details
  • Forgetfulness even in daily activities
  • Easily distracted by unrelated thoughts
  • Have difficulty waiting in conversations (i.e. answering questions before the question is finished being asked)
  • Excess fidgeting, or “stimming” 

As a person with ADHD gets older, some symptoms may become less prevalent. This can come from a combination of brain development and environment. They might grow to realize that running around in class, for example, isn’t seen as socially acceptable so they’ll choose to express that energy in a different manner instead. 

How Are Autism And ADHD Different?

While autism and ADHD are both developmental conditions, their symptoms and the ways they affect each individual still vary. According to a study done in 2012, symptoms of ADHD and autism can overlap, but not in both directions. This means that there are symptoms of ADHD that also occur in autistic people, but most symptoms of autism are not also a part of an ADHD diagnosis.

Some of the common overlaps in symptoms include stimming, hype fixations, or misunderstandings of social cues in conversations to name a few. While there are many people who have both ADHD and autism, there are differences in how they’re treated and in the way that society thinks about both disorders.

Treatment for ADHD VS Autism

Neither ADHD nor autism are things that can be “cured.” The primary purpose of treatment for ADHD and autism is to help the individual learn more about their condition and develop skills to help them better manage their symptoms. Not all symptoms of ADHD or autism are inherently debilitating, and not every patient is going to want a “fix” for all of their symptoms. Learning proper ways to manage triggers, how to better respond to stimulation, or how to react to urges as they arise is important. 

Here at SUN Behavioral Columbus, we offer many options for you or your loved ones in order to help you move forward in treatment. 

What Medications are Used to Treat Autism and ADHD? 

When medication is introduced into ADHD and autism treatments, they’re there to help manage symptoms as needed. 

For ADHD, there are two types of medications used: stimulants, and non-stimulants.

  • Stimulants work to increase dopamine levels, which play a big part in the thinking and attention processors in the brain. 
  • Non-stimulants tend to be slower to work, and are generally prescribed if a stimulant isn’t giving the desired results for the patient. Non-stimulants help improve focus and impulse control. 

Prescriptions used to assist people with autism tend to be prescribed when symptoms have more severity. The most common symptoms treated with medication for autism are irritability, depression, hyperactivity, anxiety, and aggression. 

In both instances, medication works best in combination with behavioral therapy. 

Behavioral Training Therapy

The primary focus of behavioral therapy is to help those with ADHD and autism learn new skills to better manage their symptoms and live their daily lives. Take, for example, time management. Being able to properly utilize your time is a skill that people tend to develop naturally as they experience life and get older. 

People with ADHD, however, have a harder time developing this skill and it can greatly impact their lives, from missing important deadlines, to forgetting doctors' appointments, or even forgetting daily activities like showering or brushing their teeth. Behavioral therapy can help work with you or your loved one to learn tips and tricks for time management. 

In the case of autism, one of the most common symptoms is difficulty navigating social situations. Behavioral therapy might work to build up skills in recognizing social cues, body language, or facial features that someone with autism might struggle to recognize.

Helpful Tips To Help Manage ADHD and Autism

One of the most important parts of helping yourself with any condition is education. Knowing more about yourself and how your specific symptoms work can help you better recognize when your symptoms are affecting you. 

Another important component can be speaking with others who also have the same condition as you. Different tricks work for different people, and not everyone will know every trick. Some people find buying stim toys help them focus better, others use visual systems like bracelets or post-it notes to remind them of daily routines. 

Just as each person with ADHD or autism is different, so are the methods for best going about your daily life with those conditions. 

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FAQs About ADHD Vs Autism

What is the main difference between ADHD and autism?

ADHD is primarily associated with hyperactivity, difficulty focusing and organizing time. Autism is primarily associated with difficulties in understanding social skills, from expressing themselves to recognizing nuances in others.

Can ADHD be mistaken for autism?

ADHD is rarely mistaken for autism. People can be diagnosed with both, and sometimes autism is mistaken for ADHD, but the same is not true the other way around. 

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