Working with children, whether a parent or educator, has many twists and turns.  One such turn is understanding the similarities and differences between autism spectrum disorder and ADHD.  Both diagnoses have exploded in the past years which has many people curious about what makes each unique. Through research, our society is understanding more about each one thus developing more therapies and treatments for each. This quick synopsis is to gain a basic knowledge of similarities and differences. 

Socrates once stated, “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of term.”  Therefore, let’s begin with a foundational understanding of each disorder. Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication.  ADHD is a chronic, biological condition that makes it hard for kids to concentrate, pay attention, sit still, and curb impulsivity.  

Many of the similarities between autism spectrum disorder and ADHD lie in the social developmental areas.  In addition, both have a high rate of occurring more frequently in boys and with other conditions.  Socially, both are targets for bullying and isolation.  Even though no cure exists, through research both have successfully been treated with forms of behavioral interventions. 

In addition to similarities, differences do exist between the two disorders.  The first major difference is when they are detected and diagnosed.  Autism spectrum disorder is usually diagnosed before the age of five.  ADHD on the other hand has an average age of seven before a diagnosis is given.  In the American adult population today, approximately 4% live with ADHD while approximately 1% live with an autism spectrum disorder.  Communication skills are not hindered with ADHD while communication can be a major issue for someone with an autism spectrum disorder.  Finally, theory of mind is present in people diagnosed with ADHD while it needs to be taught, sometimes to no avail, to people with an autism spectrum disorder. 

One of my favorite quotes from Temple Grandin states, “I am different, not less.”  This quote sums up a simple point of living in this world.  People are valuable and we all have a purpose in life.  Some may be very impulsive while others prefer to not be in large groups of people.  My hope is that by getting a short glimpse into the worlds of ADHD and autism spectrum disorder some light has been shed on both the similarities and differences between ADHD and autism. I would encourage you to learn as much as you can and then team up with others around you to help improve the lives of people who live with either ADHD or autism.