What is AuDHD? Autism and ADHD Comorbidity
You’re inattentive, fidget a lot, have social difficulties, and learn in quite a different way than most people do. When you look up these symptoms, you find out that you’re not alone as millions of people around the world are experiencing the same thing. While that’s a relief, you notice two different conditions consistently pop up in your search: Autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
You might be confused as you switch back and forth between each symptom list that both seem to fit you so well. So, which one do you have? ADHD or autism?
Well, you might have both! Autism and ADHD comorbidity, or AuDHD, is more common than one might think and can have very similar symptoms.
The Similarities Between Autism and ADHD
ADHD and autism are both neurodevelopmental conditions, which are characterized by abnormal brain development leading to difficulties/differences in cognition, behavior, social and emotional functioning, and/or motor skills.
Neurodevelopmental disorders can impact the central nervous system (CNS) and the brain’s executive functioning. The central nervous system controls movement, memory, attention, language, and social skills. Executive functioning regulates impulse control, time management, focus, decision-making, and organization.
This may be why there are so many similarities between autism and ADHD. Overlapping symptoms include:
- Difficulty with focus and attention
- Trouble with social interactions, such as struggling with interpersonal relationship development
- Intense focus and fixation on activities of interests, A.K.A. hyperfixation
- Sensory overload; being easily overwhelmed by certain sounds, textures, tastes, smells, etc.
Despite significant overlap of symptoms, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) stated that an individual could not be diagnosed with both conditions up until 2013. Now, as of the most recent publication of the DSM-5, both conditions can be simultaneously diagnosed.
Distinctions between Autism and ADHD
While similar, autism and ADHD are diagnosed differently in the DSM-5.
The DSM-5 criteria for ADHD are according to patterns of inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. As well as the symptoms previously listed, ADHD symptoms also include:
- Becoming easily distracted
- Lack of attention to detail
- Disorganization or difficulty following directions
- Excessive talking
- Inability to play or relax quietly
For autism, the criteria are according to deficits in social communication and interaction, as well as a pattern of restricted, repetitive behaviors. On top of the similar symptoms previously listed, people with autism may experience:
- Delayed language development
- Difficulty forming relationships with peers
- Repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping or rocking back and forth
- Poor eye contact
- Difficulty understanding facial expressions or body language
- Insistence and inflexibility on routines
How Common is AuDHD?
Autism and ADHD comorbidity is very common. Different studies suggest that anywhere between 50-70% of autistic people have ADHD as well. As for those with ADHD, about 20-50% also have autism. The intersection is so frequent that many diagnosed with both have referred to their condition as AuDHD (although this is not a clinical term).
However, due to the significant overlap of symptoms, it is difficult to get an accurate diagnosis as an individual afflicted with both conditions. Typically, diagnoses are given one at a time and professionals often will not evaluate for both unless requested.
Additionally, the same symptoms can manifest due to different reasons. For example, an individual with autism may have social difficulties due to their inability to read social cues. An individual with ADHD may also have social difficulties, but only due to their inability to focus and listen to others without interrupting. An individual with both afflictions can have a combination of those influences.
Because of these reasons, trying to fit into diagnostic criteria can be difficult as symptoms can be overlooked or misunderstood.*
*It should be noted that while it is helpful to identify your experiences, it is important to not self-diagnose. Only a licensed clinician can give you a diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment. Although self-diagnosis is often the first step to getting official diagnosis, acting on purely a self-diagnosis alone and self-medicating is dangerous. Like with anything related to your health, please refer to your doctor for treatment and clarity.
Living with AuDHD
AuDHD manifests in individuals in different ways, but studies show that overall those with AuDHD have more severe impairment in social processing, motor skills, and adaptive and executive functioning.
Dr. Debra Bercovici speculates that this may be due to the conditions’ opposing symptoms interacting with each other. For example, one’s autistic tendencies may thrive when following a routine, but their ADHD traits make it difficult to follow one.
In the same vein, ADHD and autism trait interactions can amplify certain symptoms and dysfunctions. For example, when it comes to sensory overload, those with ADHD have sensory information competing for the brain’s attention while those with autism are more sensitive to sensory input overall. This can lead to an overwhelming and difficult situation for those with AuDHD.
Because of this, these opposing traits must be addressed when implementing treatment. It should also be noted that treatment may need to be more nuanced. Those with AuDHD tend to respond poorly to standard ADHD treatment as well as having more side effects.
Fortunately, there has been a rise in studies on the overlap of autism and ADHD diagnoses as their similarities become more glaring. Living a fulfilling life with AuDHD is possible and will be even more so with growing research and awareness.
If you or a loved one are struggling with autism and/or ADHD, The Meadowglade Treatment Center is here to help. Our team of mental health professionals has experience providing individualized treatment programs and services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. With our personalized approach and specialized care, The Meadowglade is well-equipped to support those who face the challenges of both autism and ADHD. For more information, contact our admissions team today.