Is it Autism, ADHD or Both?

KoolMinds Team
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts the parts of the brain that help us plan, focus on, and execute tasks. It affects how you pay attention, sit still, and control your behavior.

ASD and ADHD are distinct diagnoses that have several symptoms in common and it is possible to have both disorders. 

Symptoms of ASD and ADHD 

ASD and ADHD are both described as neurodevelopmental disorders in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The American Psychiatric Association (APA) stated for years that the two conditions couldn’t be diagnosed in the same person. It wasn't until 2013 that they changed their stance and dual diagnosis became an accepted practice. The APA now states that the two conditions can co-occur.  When trying to figure out if you have ASD, ADHD, or both, it is important to figure out what symptoms you have so that you can discuss them with your doctor. We will first compare the symptoms of ASD and ADHD and then go over the symptoms that are often shared by both.
Symptoms of ASD
  • Avoids eye contact and/or physical contact
  • Gets upset by changes in routine
  • Struggles with social skills
  • Has delayed speech or no speech
  • Repeats words or phrases over and over
  • Has obsessive interests
  • Has difficulty showing understanding of other people's feelings including his own
  • Reacts strongly to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
  • Uses excessive body movements to self-soothe such as rocking or flapping hands
Symptoms of ADHD
  • Seems forgetful or easily distracted
  • Doesn't seem to be listening
  • Doesn't follow directions or finish tasks
  • Tends to squirm, fidget, or bounce when sitting
  • Has trouble waiting for their turn and being patient
  • Interrupts others, blurts things out
  • Talks excessively
  • Often loses things
  • Has problems organizing daily tasks
  • Acts without thinking and may not understand the consequences of their actions
  • Is always “on the go,” as if “driven by a motor”
Here are some of the symptoms that people with ASD and ADHD often share:
  • Impulsivity: Including speaking out of turn and jumping up when it's inappropriate
  • Lack of focus: In ADHD, typically being distracted by external events, and in ASD, being distracted by your own thoughts and ideas
  • Problems with executive functioning: Difficulties in the ability to organize time, tasks, and projects
  • Sensory challenges: Over- or under-responsiveness to light, sound, touch
  • Challenges with social interaction and making friends
  • Emotional immaturity: Difficulty in managing anger and frustration

Causes of ASD and ADHD 

Researchers are still in the process of figuring out what causes ASD and ADHD. Both ASD and ADHD are heritable, meaning that they run in families. There are also some environmental issues that can lead to ASD, ADHD, or both. According to the CDC, risk factors for ADHD include genetics, brain injury, exposure to environmental risks (e.g., lead) during pregnancy or at a young age, alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy, premature delivery and low birth weight. All of the risk factors of ADHD except brain injury are also risk factors for ASD. In addition, ASD may be caused by specific genetic developmental disorders and by fetal exposure to specific drugs.  



The Difference Between ADHD and Autism

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder vs Autism – How To Tell The Difference

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[i] Data and Statistics About ADHD | CDC. (2022, June 8). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 
[ii] Do I Have ADHD, Autism, or Both? (2022, June 1). Psych Central.
[iii] Morin, A. (2021, April 2). The difference between ADHD and autism.
[iv]  Rudy, L. J. (2022, January 12). Autism vs. ADHD: What Are the Differences? Verywell Health.,important%20to%20get%20the%20correct%20diagnosis%20or%20diagnoses.

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