Connections Between Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD

Jacob and Hannah’s first son looked as healthy as any baby boy, but when he started growing, the new parents noticed he didn’t respond every time they called him. And he played with the sit-to-stand walker for hours…ignoring them when it was time for dinner or bed. 

They decided to have him evaluated, and when the diagnosis came back, it confirmed what they’d been wondering — autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism, ADHD, and other neurodevelopmental disorders can be scary for families of young children.

What Is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder with symptoms that appear within the first three years of life. Its formal diagnostic name is autism spectrum disorder. The word ‘spectrum’ indicates that autism appears in different forms with varying levels of severity. That means that each individual with autism experiences their own unique strengths, symptoms, and challenges.

Autism Research Institute

Although we label autism a condition, it’s actually a range of conditions. That’s why it appears in different forms and with different levels of severity. Genetics and environmental factors play a large role in the type of autism an individual experiences and the severity.

Symptoms of Autism

Like Hannah and Jacob, a parent or grandparent of a young child may notice that the child doesn’t respond when called by name or becomes fixated on a toy and cannot be pulled away from it. Signs of autism generally appear before a child is three years old. They can feel distressing to parents who notice when something seems off in the way their little one responds to them.

Autism Research Institute points out symptoms that autism produces: 

  • Minimal facial expressions
  • Limited eye contact
  • Repetitive sounds or gestures
  • Disinterest in imaginative play

What Is ADHD?

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic condition that affects millions of children and often continues into adulthood. ADHD includes a combination of persistent problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.” – Mayo Clinic

Experts say boys experience ADHD more often than girls, and parents often have their school-aged children evaluated when they start to see the same problems in the classroom that their kids have been struggling with at home. 

Symptoms of ADHD

Mayo Clinic explains that the symptoms of ADHD can lean toward inattentiveness or hyperactivity and impulsiveness in different individuals. The same person can also experience both ends of the spectrum.

A child struggling with the inattentiveness of ADHD may: 

  • Become easily distracted in the classroom
  • Have difficulty completing assignments
  • Also struggle to stay organized 
  • Choose to do just about anything other than homework on school nights

If that same child is also hyperactive, then staying in a seat, keeping quiet when others are talking, and sitting down to focus on homework may all be incredibly challenging. 

Similarities Between Autism and ADHD

“Both ADHD and ASD are neurodevelopmental disorders (brain development has been affected in some way). That means both conditions/disorders affect the central nervous system, which is responsible for movement, language, memory, and social and focusing skills.”Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)

Those with autism and ADHD struggle in similar ways — in their interactions with others, their communication skills, their ability to be appropriately attentive in different settings. 

Differences in Autism and ADHD

What’s different about the two disorders is the specific ways individuals struggle with their interactions, communication, and attentiveness. 


People with autism may not respond well when others initiate conversation. They may have trouble making eye contact with others and articulating what it is they’re trying to say. These struggles can make social interactions awkward and difficult.

On the other hand, you may not be able to get someone with ADHD to stop talking long enough to hear what someone else is saying. They also may find it hard to sit down to a conversation that involves intense concentration for an extended period of time. These challenges can make social interactions equally frustrating.


Medical News Today points out that those with autism may fixate on one topic of conversation while those with ADHD can interrupt others often without noticing how their words affect the people they’re talking to. 

Those with autism can also have trouble articulating what they want to communicate. In the Spectrum, an online source for autism research, Lydia Denworth writes, “People on the spectrum often have subtle problems using language or making facial expressions. Pinpointing where those difficulties originate may help ease their social communication.


The same way someone with autism fixates on a topic of conversation, they may get so focused on a project they’re working on or a show they’ve been watching that it may be nearly impossible to pull them away from it.

Although someone with ADHD may also become hyper-focused at times, more often someone with ADHD will have trouble staying focused long enough to complete a project because there are too many distractions pulling attention away from it. 

These are just a few of the differences in how autism and ADHD present themselves in individuals. 

What Happens When Someone Has Both?

The CDC’s latest statistics show that six million children in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD. Of those six million, 14% also have autism. The two disorders together create greater complications for the individuals experiencing them. 

In fact, a study in Autism Journal revealed that children who have both deal with lower cognitive functioning, more severe social impairment, and more delays in adaptive functioning than those who only have ASD. 

Treatments for Autism and ADHD

Treatments for both autism and ADHD can involve outpatient therapy — a comprehensive evaluation and assessment, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and other forms of therapy, education, and medication management — and medication.

Treatment for autism also may include nutritional guidance, social skills training, speech language therapy, and more. Early intervention is critical for children struggling with autism and/or ADHD.

Best Day’s professional counselors are standing by to assist your family members who may show symptoms of autism or ADHD. Give us a call today so we can help you and your family live your best life.