Are Autism and ADHD Linked?

Are Autism and ADHD Linked

If you’ve ever stopped to think about it, then you’ve probably noticed quite a few similarities between ADHD and Autism. We’ve actually written several peripheral topics on the subject already (which we’ll link to at the bottom of this post), but this is worth exploring on its own. It’s important to note, however, that similarities and “links” are not the same thing. Let’s do our best to answer the question, “Are autism and ADHD linked?”

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ADHD Autism Similarities & Connection

We know that autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that the severity of the symptoms can vary. Arguably, we’re all “on the spectrum” — we just experience the symptoms of autism at such a minor degree, that it doesn’t inhibit any part of our lives. Between a “neurotypical” (NT) person and a person with ADHD, however, it’s clear who of the two has symptoms closest to those with autism.


Symptoms of Autism

  • Misunderstanding idioms and sarcasm
  • Misreading social cues
  • Trouble understanding the emotions and facial expressions of others
  • Monotone voice, does not fluctuate from situation to situation
  • Preoccupations or obsessive thinking (hyper-focus on certain topics)
  • Repetitive movements and sounds
  • Self-soothing behaviors, sometimes inappropriate to the situation (can be seen as fidgety-ness)
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Sensitive to visual, auditory, and tactile stimuli
  • Social isolation
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble with two-way conversations (better at transferring information, can have trouble listening)


Symptoms of ADHD

  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Hyper-focus on certain topics, neglecting responsibilities
  • Inability to focus long-term on work or even play
  • Often misplaces important objects
  • Restlessness
  • Fidgety-ness (tapping foot, clicking pen, etc.)
  • Tendency to interrupt others
  • Social burnout or social isolation
  • Easily distracted by external stimuli


ADHD and Autism Overlaps

  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fidgety-ness
  • Hyper-focus on certain tasks
  • Complete lack of interest, motivation or focus on other tasks
  • Social isolation
  • Deeply impacted by external stimuli


ADHD and Autism in Children

ADHD and autism look a little different in children than in adults. Sometimes symptoms are so minor in childhood that they’re not noticed until adulthood, when they start to interfere with a person’s ability to cope in certain settings. Here are the differences between the two in children:


Signs of Autism in Children

  • Doesn’t respond to their name by 12 month
  • Delayed speech capabilities
  • Child may appear deaf because they do not respond to voices
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Doesn’t engage in pretend play
  • Not as likely to engage play with peers
  • Walk on tippy toes
  • Flap their hands
  • Doesn’t point at objects by 14 months
  • Extreme reactions to certain stimuli


Signs of ADHD in Children

  • Trouble staying in seat
  • Loses focus, even while playing
  • Climbs on objects
  • Fidgets
  • Interrupts people in conversation
  • Impatient; don’t wait their turn
  • Trouble expressing emotions; emotional outbursts
  • Hyperactive
  • Unfinished tasks
  • Puts off doing homework due to length of task
  • Makes simple mistakes (due to lack of interest, not lack of intelligence)
  • Daydreams
  • Often loses things
  • Loud while playing

ADHD and Autism in Adults

The symptoms and “warning signs” of ADHD and autism are going to be a little different in adults, than they are for children. For example, children with ADHD may climb on objects or get up from their seat during inappropriate times, but in adulthood, the social stigma will be enough to keep them in their seat but the deep feeling of restlessness will persist. Here’s the difference between the two:


Signs of Autism in Adults

  • Trouble making or maintaining friendships
  • Clumsiness; discoordination
  • Forgetfulness
  • Repeatedly talks about the same subjects
  • Feels uncomfortable or restless while making eye contact
  • Sensitive to external stimuli
  • Prefers solitary activities over group activities
  • Social anxiety
  • General anxiety
  • Excels in math, coding, photo-realistic art, etc.


Signs of ADHD in Adults

  • Persistent boredom or restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Often late and forgetful
  • Trouble regulating emotions, especially anger
  • Impulsive behaviors (to alleviate feelings of restlessness) — can translate to substance abuse
  • Lack of motivation
  • Interrupting during conversations; tendency to monologue
  • Trouble maintaining relationships

Autism and ADHD Medication

While there is no medication for autism at this time, ADHD medication is sometimes used to treat hyperactivity and concentration issues in people with autism as well.


SEE RELATED: PROs and CONs of ADHD Medication


In addition to ADHD medications, antidepressants (used to alleviate anxiety) and antipsychotics have been used to treat certain symptoms of autism. This practice is still new, and very few conclusive research findings have been made.


SEE RELATED: 5 Things to Consider Before Taking ADHD Medication


ADHD or Autism Test

Autism has become more prevalent in the media, normalizing being on the spectrum. Because you’re more aware of autism, you might be wondering, “Do I have autism or ADHD?” It’s possible that you have neither. The only way to know for sure is to meet with a psychiatrist or your primary physician.


That being said, you can validate the curious side of you by taking some of the tests below:


Do I have autism?



Do I have ADHD?


Related Reading

If you’re interested in reading more about the “link” between ADHD and autism, check out some other posts we’ve written for the Special Strong blog:

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Fitness for People with Autism and ADHD

If you have autism or ADHD, our fitness trainers are equipped to guide you through private training sessions. Exercise can help alleviate some of the more severe symptoms of both disorders, like hyperactivity, lack of focus, and fidgety-ness. Sign up today!




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