Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are related but separate neurodevelopmental disorders that are commonly diagnosed in childhood. While ADHD and autism can look a lot like each other, they are unique diagnoses. Determining the cause behind each symptom is key in differentiating each disorder.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by trouble with attention, hyperactivity, and managing impulses. Some children may have more inattentive symptoms, whereas others have primarily hyperactive/impulsive symptoms, or some children may struggle in all of these areas. Difficulties with attention might look like trouble focusing on certain tasks, jumping from activity to activity, and difficulty attending and remembering information. Impulsivity often impacts behavior and can involve acting before thinking through consequences, having trouble following safety cues and instructions, or interrupting others in conversation. Children that present with hyperactivity often have trouble sitting for longer periods, crave frequent physical activity and might talk rapidly. It’s important to note that ADHD can look differently across individuals, and many children can attend well to certain tasks of interest, but maintaining focus in other areas is very difficult. In order to qualify for a diagnosis, these symptoms must be causing significant difficulties across settings, for example in the school and at home. Treatment for ADHD typically involves a combination of medication, behavioral therapy, and lifestyle changes.
Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning it can range in severity across individuals. Autism impacts a few broad areas including communication, social skills, play, interests and behavior. Children with autism might show delays in their speech development, talk differently than others, or things like maintaining back and forth conversation doesn’t come easily. Parents may notice differences in non-verbal communication such as eye contact or smiling, or how their child responds to their name. Strong interests in certain toys or topics, or behavior that seems repetitive such as lining or sorting, are also common. Many children with autism also have unique ways of responding to sensory input. For example, they might be extra sensitive to noise and cover their ears, or they might enjoy seeking certain sensory input by touching objects that have different textures, or enjoying looking at lights. Many children with autism have a hard time with change, and transitioning from places or activities can be very overwhelming for them. They might want things to be the same and predictable. Some individuals with autism may show different body movements, such as motions with their hands when excited or upset, or with their whole body. Just like ADHD, autism can also look different across individuals and while there are common areas of symptoms, each child is unique in their own way. Treatment for autism typically involves therapy such as ABA therapy, to provide extra support in focusing on the specific needs of your child. ABA therapy can help provide your child support in areas of need, and also build upon their strengths to help them reach their full potential and achieve success.
ADHD and autism often share symptoms such as trouble with attention, sensory seeking behavior, social difficulties and impulsive behaviors. Just because these overlapping symptoms are visible, does not mean your child definitely has both ADHD and autism. However, ADHD and autism can co-occur. It's important that co-occurrence is recognized and both disorders are treated appropriately.
Based on some of these symptoms, you may be wondering… Do I have autism? Do I have ADHD? Could it be something else? Autism isn’t the only diagnosis that can look like ADHD. Children with learning disabilities, speech disorders, hearing loss, and other problems can also involve common symptoms of ADHD and autism. Therefore, it’s very important if parents are concerned their child may have one of these conditions, that they talk with their doctor to obtain resources for a thorough evaluation.
A healthcare provider can help determine an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan. Action Behavior Centers can help provide the necessary autism screening tools to help identify if your child is exhibiting possible symptoms of autism. Our team of compassionate clinicians will guide you in the right direction regardless of whether you already have a diagnosis or not. For more information on the next steps of a potential autism diagnosis, please contact us or call your nearest center.
At Action Behavior Centers, we strive to provide compassionate care for children on the autism spectrum. We believe that early Intervention can be a great foundation in building a brighter future with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. ABC is committed to getting your child started as soon as possible because every moment counts.
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