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ADHD and Autism (Symptoms, Connection & Medication)

Aparajita SharmaReviewed by Ms. Aprajita Sharma Sr. Audiologist and Speech Therapist BASLP, MPH (Epidemiology) on Apr 9th, 2019 written by Editorial Team

Almost every autism specialist and health have desired to know at some point is there any link between ADHD and autism?

There is some new evidence of a genetic link. Researchers found out the cutting-edge gene therapy to treat behavioral and developmental issues in the future.

Do you have any difficulty in concentrating on homework? Shuffling and disability in sitting still? Unable to maintain eye contact? These are all the symptoms of ADHD. These symptoms match with the symptoms of the common neurodevelopmental disorder.

You know what many doctors tend to move towards that diagnosis. So, ADHD might not be the exact answer. Before the diagnosis is made for ADHD, it’s highly important to know the connection between ADHD and Autism. ADHD and ASD show two isolated spectrums with certain overlapping.

ASD and ADHD Connection

ADHD versus autism

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD)

It is a common neurodevelopmental disorder usually found in children. There is about 9.4 percent of children (between the ages of 2 and 17) in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Types Of ADHD

  • Inattentive ADHD
  • Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD
  • Combination ADHD

Inattentive ADHD: In this type of ADHD, you may experience more symptoms of inattention as compared to impulsivity and hyperactivity. The diagram explains the symptoms of inattentive ADHD.

Inattention ADHD

Main characteristics of inattentive ADHD:

  • Miss details
  • Easily distracted
  • Get bored frequently
  • Unable to focus on a single task
  • Faces difficulty in organizing thoughts.
  • Lose items needed to complete a task
  • Don’t seem to listen
  • Appear like they’re daydreaming
  • Takes much time in processing information
  • Trouble in the following directions

Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD: This type of ADHD has symptoms of impulsivity and hyperactivity. Such children can be a disruption in the classroom.

Hyperactivity-Impulsive ADHD

People who are impulsive or hyperactive show these characteristics:

  • Feel restless
  • Can sit still
  • Talk constantly
  • Touch and play with such objects which are inappropriate to them
  • Have trouble while indulging in quiet activities
  • Impatience
  • Don’t think much about the consequences of actions
  • Blurt out  inappropriate comments

Combination ADHD: In the combination type, your symptoms don’t exclusively fall within the inattention or hyperactive-impulsive behavior. Instead, it combines the symptoms of both.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, most of the children have this type of ADHD. One of the most common symptoms is hyperactivity in preschool-age children.

There can be some common signs of both ADHD and autism. These two conditions can even occur together.

  • Trouble paying attention to people
  • Being constantly on the move
  • Invading personal space
  • Not reading social cues well
  • Having meltdowns

Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder in which children face trouble in communication and behavior. We can say that they become victims of social communication disorder.

It is said to be a “developmental disorder” because it’s symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life although it can be diagnosed at any age. Scientists tried to discover the root cause of autism.

Autism

According to the guide created by the American Psychiatric Association, people with ASD have:

  • The difficulty in social interaction with other people.
  • Repetitive behaviors and restricted interests
  • Person’s disability to function properly in school and other areas of life.

It is known as a “spectrum” disorder. This is because there is a wide variation in the symptoms‘ type and severity experienced by people. It can occur in all ethnic, racial, and economic groups.

Normally, the average age of diagnosis is 7 years old. Boys have more chances to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls. ASD is a group of complex disorders influencing the behavior, development, and communication among children.

Symptoms of ADHD and autism

In the initial stages, it’s quite common for ADHD and ASD to be mistaken for the other. Children suffering from either condition may experience communication and focusing problems. Although there exist some similarities, they are still different conditions.

ADHD symptoms:

  • Such children easily get distracted
  • Can’t do one task for a long time
  • Concentration problem
  • Talking nonstop
  • Hyperactivity
  • Unable to sit still
  • Interrupting activities
  • lack of concern

Autism symptoms:

  • can’t react to other people’s emotions or feelings
  • repetitive movements
  • avoid eye contact
  • withdrawn behavior
  • impaired social interaction
  • delayed developmental milestones
  • intense focus and concentration on a singular item

What’s the Relationship Between ADHD and Autism?

Your child has been diagnosed with ADHD. But these four letters alone are not sufficient to explain all of her struggles. Now you may wonder whether she has ADHD or autism or both.

Nearly two-thirds of kids with ADHD have been found with at least one co-existing condition. Some studies have given evidence that up to half of the kids with autism are the sufferers of ADHD as well.

Is it possible to have both autism and ADHD?

Its answer is yes. This positive change took place only since 2013. In the past, the manual used by health professionals did not allow for a co-diagnosis of the two conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD. This changed in 2013 when the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders was released.

Hence, it’s now possible to have a diagnosis of both ASD+ADHD at a time. Due to this reason, most research examined autism and ADHD separately up to 2013. However, the research on the co-occurrence of ASD+ADHD has increased in recent years. This is gradually improving our understanding of the co-occurrence of autism and ADHD.

What causes autism and ADHD to co-occur in an individual?

Both Autism and ADHD are highly inherited diseases. According to the strong evidence, there exists overlapping between autism and ADHD in terms of brain function and structure. Recently, several studies have suggested that autism and ADHD may share the same genetic susceptibility.

co-occurence of ASD and ADHD

Between 50-70% of the genetic factors show overlapping in both conditions. It may explain the continuous co-occurrence of ASD+ADHD. Not only this, the family members of individuals with either autism or ADHD frequently display the symptoms of the other one as per the multiple family studies.

How are ADHD and Autism diagnosed?

Bertin worked with a professional who is familiar with both conditions for obtaining an accurate and complete diagnosis.

“A thorough evaluation aims to define a child’s strengths and weaknesses,” says Bertin.

Various test measures try to explain all the symptoms of former, functions, social and communication delays, mood disorders, and other symptoms. Diagnosis can be fluid and an ongoing process. There is vital evidence in favor of using medication for ADD. And for autism, there are some medications that may only help with specific symptoms like an obsessive behavior.

Getting the proper treatment

Getting a correct diagnosis is the first step to aid your child to get the proper treatment. For this purpose, you may need to seek out a child behavior disorder specialist.

Another possible treatment for this is the behavioral therapy which is recommended as the initial step of treatment for children under the age of 6.

For children above the age of six, behavioral therapy is best suitable only with medication.

Some medications commonly used to treat ADHD include:

  • methylphenidate ( Methylin, Focalin, Daytrana)
  • mixed amphetamine salts (Adderall)
  • dextroamphetamine (Zenzedi, Dexedrine)
  • lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)
  • guanfacine (Tenex, Intuniv)
  • clonidine (Catapres, Kapvay)

Behavioral therapy is also applicable to the treatment for autism also. Doctors prescribe medications for this. Some medications are also best suitable for use in the diagnosis of both disorders.

Your child’s doctor first tries different treatments before coming upon the one that manages symptoms. Multiple treatment methods are available for use at a time.

Conclusion

There exists an overlapping between autism and Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in terms of brain function and structure.

Don’t panic and try to be patient and open to trying various treatments. Scientists are continuously making efforts to find the connection between ASD and Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It may also reveal more information about the causes and better treatment options. Consult with your doctor about new treatments and clinical trials. Hence, it’s now possible to have a diagnosis of both at a time.

ADHD and Autism (Symptoms, Connection & Medication)
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