Autism & ADHD - How Do They Differ?

By raluca.olariu@…, 1 February, 2023
photo of two kids

Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are two of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders affecting millions of children and adults worldwide. While both conditions have some similarities, they are distinct from one another in many ways.

This article will explore the differences between autism and ADHD, including their symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. By understanding how these two conditions differ, we can better support those who live with them.

Symptoms of Autism and ADHD

Symptoms of autism and ADHD can vary widely from person to person, but there are some commonalities between the two conditions. Difficulties with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors characterize autism.

People with autism may have difficulty understanding nonverbal cues such as facial expressions or body language, and they may struggle to make friends or engage in conversations. They may also display repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping, rocking, or repeating words or phrases. Sensory overload is another common symptom of autism.

ADHD, on the other hand, is characterized by difficulty paying attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. People with ADHD may have trouble focusing on tasks for extended periods and may be easily distracted. They may also act without thinking and have difficulty controlling their impulses. Hyperactivity can manifest as restlessness or excessive talking.

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Diagnosis of Autism and ADHD

The diagnosis of autism and ADHD can be complex and requires a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified professional. For both conditions, the evaluation typically includes an assessment of medical history, physical examination, psychological testing, and observation.

For autism, the diagnostic criteria are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM-5 criteria include persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction, as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior.

For ADHD, the diagnostic criteria are outlined in the DSM-5 as well. The criteria include difficulty paying attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity that is inappropriate for the individual's age.

Treatment for Autism and ADHD

Treatment for autism and ADHD can vary depending on the individual’s needs. Generally, treatment focuses on managing symptoms and improving functioning in everyday life.

For autism, treatment typically includes behavioral therapy to help with social skills, communication, and repetitive behaviors. Occupational therapy may also be used to help with sensory overload. Medication may be prescribed to help manage symptoms such as anxiety or self-harm.

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For ADHD, treatment typically includes medication to help manage symptoms such as impulsivity and hyperactivity. Behavioral therapy may also be used to help with focus and attention.

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Impact of Autism and ADHD

The impact of both conditions is significant and can affect an individual’s ability to function in everyday life. People with autism may struggle with social interactions and communication, while people with ADHD may have difficulty focusing and controlling their impulses.

Both conditions can also lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Moreover, these two conditions can often connect and manifest in the same person. In such cases, it is important to get a comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan that considers both conditions.


Autism and ADHD are two distinct conditions with some similarities but many differences. It is important to understand the differences between the two conditions to properly diagnose and treat them. With proper diagnosis and treatment, individuals with autism or ADHD can lead fulfilling lives.

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