Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) share several common symptoms with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) making them sometimes difficult to tell apart initially. Both disorders have symptoms of behavior problems, lack of communication skills, inability to follow directions, and issues with social interaction.

It is essential to have a qualified mental health professional evaluate the issues surrounding each disorder for a good, solid diagnosis and determine if the disorders are overlapping. This will enable the professional to develop an effective treatment plan that will improve symptoms and give your child a better quality of life.

The following are frequently asked questions concerning the similarities and differences between ADHD and an Autism Spectrum Disorder:

What is Autism?

Autism is a general term for a complex disorder of brain development. Typically, it affects boys four times more than girls and usually presents itself during the first two or three years of a child’s life, although a diagnosis is sometimes delayed until a child starts school. It’s a wide-spectrum disorder that is more commonly referred to as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) that include autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. Autism Speaks says, “These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.”

What are the characteristics of Autism?

To be “on the spectrum” means that each child is different in a wonderfully unique way. Many have above average intellectual skills, and excel in music, art, or academics. These special children also exhibit certain characteristics that set them apart from other children. Although a child will not necessarily have all of them, these are some of the more common characteristics identified in children with Autism:

  • Speech – non-verbal or delayed speech; often repeat words or phrases.
  • Physical contact – many children do not like to be cuddled or touched.
  • Social skills – unable to make eye contact; socially awkward; sometimes makes offensive comments; may have no interest in interacting with others.
  • Development delays – one child may quickly develop their cognitive skills, while their language skills are significantly delayed. Another child may have a broad vocabulary but not be able to catch a ball or hold a crayon.
  • Loud noises – an unexpected loud noise can be very upsetting. Sudden changes in smells, lighting, or temperature can also be distressing.
  • Lack of empathy – may not understand or be aware of the feelings of others.
  • Repetitive behavior and routines – finds comfort in repeating certain behaviors over and over. Also thrives on routine and predictability. Does not adapt well to change.
  • Obsessions – many children with ASD develop obsessions or have an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

How are Autism Spectrum Disorders treated?

Since each child has different issues with ASD, a mental health professional will pull together a team to help parents develop an intervention plan tailored specifically for their child. This always involves behavior therapy, and sometimes medication when needed.

Can a child have both disorders?

Yes, a child can have two or more co-existing disorders, which is referred to as “comorbidity.” They are simultaneously treated the same way with a comprehensive therapy plan and appropriate medications. Please read more about how ADHD is often misdiagnosed and/or overlaps other disorders in Misdiagosing ADHD in Children.

If you suspect your child may have an Autism Spectrum Disorder, please contact a qualified professional to make sure they receive a proper diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible. The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome.

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