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Wednesday, 14 Oct 2020

What is the Relationship Between Autism and ADHD?

By Dr Becky Spelman
Relationship Between Autism and ADHD | Private Therapy Clinic

Until recently, there has been some hesitation to provide a diagnosis for ADHD and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). The need for a double diagnosis was seen as an unnecessary move, given the strong overlap between conditions. It was thought for a child to suffer from both merely necessitated further observation of their behavioural patterns. And there is a strong argument for this line of thinking.

Many symptoms do crossover between certain conditions, especially those within the same diagnostic grouping – in this case behavioural disorders. For example, anxiety is both considered to be a singular diagnosis and symptom of many other mental health issues. It can be present in both ADHD and ASD, as well as depression. But neither of these anxiety disorders.

A more pertinent example is the inattentiveness present in both ADHD and ASD. Although the resulting effect may appear to be the same, the root cause is not. For those with ADHD who are constantly missing social cues due to a general lack of awareness, this could be mistaken for a mild form of autism. But in reality, the real issue is purely attention and not social awareness.

ADHD vs Autism: Explained

ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder. It’s found in children usually between the ages of 2 and 17, depending on when it develops and how quickly it’s identified. It affects around 3-7% of British children and 9.4% of those in the United States.

There are three main types of ADHD, these are:

  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive
  • Predominantly inattentive
  • Combination

Of the three variants, the combined diagnosis is the most prevalent. Here are the most commonly observed symptoms associated with those who have ADHD

  • Being easily distracted
  • Jumping from one task to another and becoming bored
  • Difficulty focusing on one task
  • Incessant talking or speaking out inappropriately
  • Hyperactivity
  • Unable to sit still
  • Lack of empathy for others or the ability to react to other’s problems

Autism Explained

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a term broadly used to group of neurodevelopmental disorders. Those who suffer from the condition are known to struggle with communication and social interactions. Individuals also exhibit strong interests in hobbies and activities to exclusion of other necessary activities, including self-care.

There are five main specifiers for ASD subtypes. These include:

  • Intellectual Impairment
  • Language Impairment
  • Being associated with a medical, genetic, or environmental factor
  • Being associated with another neurodevelopmental disorder
  • Displaying bouts of catatonia

The most commonly observed symptoms of autism spectrum include:

  • Being unresponsive to normal stimuli
  • Focusing intensely on a single task for extended periods.
  • Lack of empathy for others or the ability to react to other’s problems
  • Repetitive movements such as rocking
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Reclusive behaviours
  • Unable to respond to social cues
  • Delayed cognitive maturity

Can ADHD and Autism Occur Together?

The question is not so much can ADHD and ASD occur together, but how are we going to better understand how they work together as co-occurring conditions. They can absolutely be present at the same time as one another. But the challenge we face is in accurately identifying each condition, individually. We don’t want to fall prey to a reductionist mindset where an official diagnosis of ‘Autism and ADHD’ becomes the accepted norm. It would limit the scope and effectiveness of any long-term management and treatment strategies. Each condition must be identified and evaluated on its own need for therapeutic intervention and ongoing care and/or support where required.

About the author:

Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.

***If you’re struggling with Autism or ADHD and think you might benefit from speaking to someone about your situation, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here.



Psychology Today. (8th Feb 2020) The Relationship Between Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD. Retrieved on 13th February, 2020 from,

WebMD. (15th Oct 2019) ADHD or Autism?.Retrieved on 13th February, 2020 from,

Health Line. (25th Apr 2018) The Relationship Between ADHD and Autism. Retrieved on 13th February, 2020 from,

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