The Relationship Between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder

When a child cannot focus on tasks or in school, parents may think their child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Fidgeting and difficulty sitting still? An inability to maintain and make eye contact? These are symptoms of ADHD and match what most people understand about this neurodevelopmental disorder. Even doctors are more likely to make this diagnosis, but ADHD may not be the only possibility.

Before a diagnosis can be made, it is worth understanding how ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)can be confused, and when they overlap.

ADHD versus ASD

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is diagnosed in some children. There are 3 types of ADHD:
• Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive type
• Predominantly Inattentive type
• Combination type

The combination of ADHD, where you have both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms is the most frequently diagnosed. Boys are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, although this may be because it presents differently between the genders.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is another childhood disorder which is also being diagnosed among an increasing number of children. Autism is a group of complex disorders, which may include repetitive or restricted behaviour or interests, challenges in social and communication interaction, and the possibility of learning in ways that are different to most people.

Symptoms of ADHD and Autism

In the early stages, it is not unusual for ADHD and Autism to be mistaken for the other. Children with either condition may experience trouble communicating and focusing. Even though they have some similarities, they are two distinct conditions.

Here are some comparisons of the two conditions and their symptomsADHD SymptomsAutism Symptoms
Being easily distracted 
Frequently jumping from one task to another or quickly growing bored with tasks 
Unresponsive to common stimuli 
Difficulty in focusing or concentrating and narrowing attention to one task 
Intense focus and concentration on a singular item 
Talking nonstop or blurting things out 
Trouble sitting still 
Interrupting conversations or activities 
Lack of concern or inability to react to other peoples’ emotions or feelings
Repetitive movements, such as rocking or twisting 
Avoiding eye contact 
Withdrawn behaviours 
Impaired social interactions 
Delayed developmental milestones 

When They Occur Together

There may be a reason why symptoms can make it difficult to distinguish one disorder from another as it is possible that both disorders occur at the same time. For example, people with ADHD may experience symptoms such as intense focus and concentration on one item. This symptom falls outside the official diagnostic criteria of ADHD.

Not all children can be clearly diagnosed.  A doctor may decide only one of the disorders is responsible, and yet in some cases, children can have both diagnoses. Only a small percentage of children with ADHD also have ASD. Some studies have shown that children who have both conditions have more debilitating symptoms than children who did not exhibit ASD traits. In other words, children with both conditions are more likely to have learning difficulties and impaired social skills than children who have one of the disorders.

Understanding the Combination

For many years, doctors were hesitant to diagnose children with both ADHD and ASD. For this reason, few medical studies have looked at the impact of the combination of these disorders on children and adults. More research is needed to better understand the connection between ADHD and ASD.

Getting the Proper Support

The first step in helping your child is having a correct diagnosis. You need to seek out a neurologist or psychiatrist who specialises in childhood pathology.

Managing the symptoms of ADHD can help your child manage the symptoms of ASD as well, since the behavioural techniques your child will learn may help lessen the symptoms of ASD. This is why itis vital to get a proper diagnosis and adequate support as early as possible.

Depending on the age of the child, either occupational or speech therapy is recommended, medication is prescribed, or a combination of both. Your therapist may need to try several methods of support before finding one that manages the symptoms, or there may be multiple support methods used simultaneously.


ADHD and ASD are conditions that can be managed with the right support that is the best fit for the individual. Be patient and open to trying various options. You may need to move to new support methods as your child gets older and symptoms change so that quality of life is maintained as best as possible.

Adults who still experience symptoms of these disorders into adulthood can also adjust their lifestyle and learn how to support themselves in the best way possible.

While ADHD and ASD impact the everyday functioning of an individual, support to reduce the impact of these disorders is available. Continuous research is being done to connect these two diagnoses, hence more information is currently available than previously. Consult a mental health professional if you are unsure of the way forward so that you can live your best life.