Understanding the world of neurodiversity can feel like trying to solve a complex puzzle, especially when it comes to telling the difference between conditions like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering, “do I have Autism or ADHD?” you’re not alone. It’s common for people to see signs of both in themselves, and figuring out the specifics is really important for getting the right help and support.
The overlap between autism and ADHD
Firstly, it’s important to understand that both Autism and ADHD are neurodevelopmental disorders. This means they’re related to the development of the nervous system, including the brain. They both affect how a person behaves, communicates, and interacts with others – but they do this in different ways.
ADHD is primarily characterised by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. This can look like having a hard time focusing, getting easily distracted, being fidgety, or acting without properly thinking things through.
On the other hand, Autism covers a wider range of symptoms. When it comes to Autism, the key things to look out for are difficulties in social communication and interaction, and also having very fixed patterns of behaviour and/or interests. People with Autism might not pick up on social cues as easily, might struggle with changes to their routine, or find that they get very absorbed by certain topics or activities.
The difference between ADHD and autism in adults
Distinguishing between ADHD and Autism can be challenging because there can be an overlap in symptoms. For instance, someone with ADHD might have difficulty in social situations, not necessarily because they don’t understand social cues (which is often the case in Autism), but because being impulsive and not paying attention can make socialising a challenge.
Similarly, someone with Autism might display hyperfocus on a specific interest, which can sometimes be mistaken for the inattentive type of ADHD where someone may appear to be lost in their “own world”.
Key differences to look out for
Social communication – people with Autism and ADHD might both find socialising difficult, but for different reasons. In Autism, these challenges are usually down to difficulties in understanding and responding to social norms and cues. In ADHD, it tends to be more related to impulsivity and inattention.
Repetitive behaviours – people with Autism are more likely to have repetitive behaviours or get super focused on certain interests. This means they might stick to specific routines or get really absorbed in particular topics or activities. On the other hand, while someone with ADHD might also have their favourite interests, they usually don’t get as intensely focused like those with Autism do.
Attention challenges – both Autism and ADHD can involve issues with attention, but they show up differently. ADHD is mainly characterised by difficulties staying focused, whereas in Autism, it might be more about having trouble shifting attention away from something they’re really into.
The importance of getting a professional evaluation
Getting a professional’s opinion is crucial because these subtleties in symptoms can be hard to distinguish on your own. A detailed assessment by a specialist psychologist, which will include a thorough detailed history, observation, as well as standardised tests, will provide the clarity you need to move forward.
It’s also important to note that it’s possible for someone to have both ADHD and Autism. This dual diagnosis can make understanding and managing the symptoms more complex but also gives a better picture of what that person needs, ultimately leading to more tailored support.
When it comes to support and treatment, whether it’s ADHD, Autism, or both, getting the right diagnosis is key. Depending on the individual, ADHD treatment may involve medication, behavioural strategies, and sometimes also therapy to improve focus, reduce impulsiveness, and help with organisation.
For Autism, the focus is more on improving social skills, communication, and handling specific behavioural challenges, which might involve therapy, educational support, and occasionally medication for any related issues like anxiety or depression.
Understanding if you or someone you care about has Autism, ADHD, or can be a transformative experience. It provides a framework for understanding challenges and strengths, and paves the way for getting the right support.
Whether it’s Autism, ADHD, or a combination of both, these diagnoses are just one part of what makes each and every one of us unique. With the right kind of support, people with either – or both – conditions can lead fulfilling and successful lives.
Getting an assessment for you or your loved one is an important first step towards uncovering your unique set of strengths and challenges. This understanding is the foundation for accessing the right support and ultimately, thriving in your personal journey through neurodiversity.