Autism With ADHD

Is It More Common Than Previously Thought?


Diagnoses of autism with ADHD are on the rise. Both ADHD and autism are diagnosed based on criteria found in the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders (DSM).

While Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and ASD (autism spectrum disorders) have different diagnostic criteria, there can be some symptom overlap between the two conditions which can make proper diagnosis tricky.

For instance, some forms of ASD (autism spectrum disorders) may involve inattention and impulsive behavior, making the child appear to have ADHD. Similarly, the hallmark inattention symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may disguise ASD's. (See the full list of ADHD symptoms and autism symptoms).

In fact, recent research estimates that over 30% of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) meet clinical and diagnostic criteria for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

In addition, 20% of children with ASD exhibit subthreshold clinical ADHD symptoms. (Subthreshold means that ADHD symptoms are present, but not frequent or severe enough to warrant a full ADHD diagnosis.)


The Research

autism with adhd

Research conducted during the past ten years suggests that both ADHD and autism may be traced to the same gene.

Specifically, the same gene variations are common to both ADHD and ASD and both conditions share similar abnormalities in the development of specific brain pathways.

This may be a likely explanation for the co-occurrence of the two disorders. (Reiersen and Todd, Department of Psychiatry, Washington University of St. Louis.)

In addition, the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry reported that there are clinically significant elevations of autistic traits in children who meet diagnostic criteria for ADHD.


Autism With ADHD: Implications For Diagnosis And Treatment

So what does this all mean? Where does one condition begin and one condition end? 

As ongoing research expands the knowledge of both autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders, the diagnostic criteria for each condition will need to be revised and improved.

Also, as the overlap between the two conditions becomes more recognized by parents, teachers, and treatment providers, the treatments will also need to adapt and improve.

The good news is that the diagnosis and treatment of both ADHD and autism will improve in the coming years, with better services provided for sufferers of both conditions.


Tips For Parents And Caregivers

If you and your child is suffering from autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder it is important to find a professional who specializes in diagnosing both conditions. While some towns and communities offer many skilled medical and mental health professionals, some are sorely lacking in terms of decent providers. 

Check the list of service providers offered by your health insurance company. Call them, and ask questions about their experience with autism and ADHD. Such providers may include psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists (clinical social workers, licensed professional counselors), neurologists, child development specialists, and others. 



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