Are Autism and ADHD Linked?

Are Autism and ADHD Linked

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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?”

 

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?

 

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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:

 

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!

5 Ways Exercise Improves ADD and ADHD

Do you or someone you know have ADD or ADHD? Here are 5 ways exercise improves ADD and ADHD. We have also added some interesting facts about how exercises can help reduce the symptoms associated with ADD and ADHD.

Movement and exercise have therapeutic benefits beyond the improvement of fitness.

Research shows that physical activity and exercise increase circulation and the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain. Exercise increases the release of endorphins including serotonin, and acetylcholine. Medical and scientific research have found this to help reduce behavioral symptoms in children with ADD and ADHD. The list contains useful information on 5 ways exercise improves ADD and ADHD and more.

Research Studies

Recent research suggests that more exercise performed by ADHD children may result in more calming effects.

The results of a controlled study of 221 ADHD children were published in the Journal of Pediatrics (October 2014, VOLUME 134 / ISSUE 4). The study found that physical activity had “measurable positive effects on (the) children’s cognitive performance and brain structure and function.” The children participated in structured and monitored after-school fitness programs. This study made use of “behavioral and electrophysiological measures of brain function to quantify and record the enhanced attentional inhibition and cognitive flexibility.” The children who participated in the study were ages 7-9.

In 2009, Jennifer I. Gapin, Ph.D. published Associations Among Physical Activity, ADHD Symptoms, and Executive Function in Children with ADHD. Her study found stimulants (like Adderall and Ritalin) are the first thing doctors prescribe for children with ADD or ADHD. The problem with these medications is that they don’t always work. She went on to say that physical activity might be able to alter neurobiological deficiencies and fundamental executive function. Thus, regular physical exercise may be able to reduce the psychosocial impact and the severity of symptoms associated with ADHD.

Dr. Robert Myers, Ph.D. is a child psychologist with over 35 years’ experience in the field of ADD/ADHD. He is an expert on children and adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and learning disabilities. If you are like most parents of an ADD/ADHD child, you know only too well the many challenges this type of child presents. As part of his research, Dr. Myers has identified exercises that need a combination of physical activity and thought. These activities can dramatically improve brain function and strengthen neural pathways within the ADHD child’s brain.

Here Are 5 Examples of his many exercises to improve ADD and ADHD

Physical Fitness Exercises

Strength and Resistance Training

Strength and resistance training can prove to be very beneficial for those with ADD/ADHD. Keep in mind children should only perform these exercises with the right supervision. The person exercising must also follow the correct form. Because failure to do so will not help them achieve their goals and they could easily injure themselves. Learning how to implement the “muscle-mind” connection can improve the brain’s ability to focus. This occurs not only in the gym but also outside of the gym.

Games of All Types Make Excellent Exercises
Storytelling Games

Role-playing activities involving stories and games combined with physical acting out of the characters. This activity requires only a book or storyline and imagination. A pirate, princess, dinosaur or any character that you and your child choose to act out. This role-play activity combined with the physical acting out improves memory and concentration. It also helps with the development of logical thought and a sense of humor.

Mazes and Seeking Games

Physical mazes and any series of activities that your child must perform in a sequence are beneficial. A simple game of Hide and Seek combines reasoning and activity and improves concentration, thought processing speed and visual-motor skills. Another fun exercise that requires both reasoning and physical activity is an obstacle course. Try to set up a course that requires your child to think about how best to overcome each obstacle. It doesn’t need to be overly challenging at first, but you can always add to the challenge later. The physical activity side should be age-appropriate. Build it in a way that makes your child work at the obstacles rather than just blow through them. It might take a while for you to determine what works best. These types of exercise improve ADD and ADHD and are a lot of fun at the same time.

Dancing and Dancing Games

Dancing and dancing classes require specific moves and movement patterns. These are structured movement classes including gymnastics or martial arts. You can achieve a similar result at home with “sequenced” dance video games like those available for game systems with colored dance mats. The child must match the colors and movements on the screen with movement to colored sections of the mat. Dance, dancing games and classes like gymnastics and martial arts improve concentration, sequencing, coordinated motor integration. These activities also provide plenty of aerobic exercise.

Sports Games and Exercise that Improves ADD and ADHD

Paddleball, Table Tennis, Racquet Sports

Remember the little rubber ball on the end of a long rubber band attached to a wooden paddle? Paddleball is a fun activity that improves concentration and coordination. As your child ages and skills improve, introduce table tennis and later racquet sports. These sports require quick movement and agility as they help develop concentration and motor skills. They will also help provide lots of aerobic exercise.

Working out in the gym can also help those with ADD and ADHD. Each exercise or piece of equipment they use will have its own set of exercises and rules they must follow. You should work with a personal trainer who has the training and certification required to work with special needs children. At Special Strong, our trainers are fully National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), the National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT). They are also Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainers.

If you want to experience how exercise improves ADD and ADHD, contact us here to set up a consultation.

About Special Strong

Special Strong provides fitness and nutrition for special needs children, adolescents, and adults with autism and other disabilities. Through our online training platform, we also provide special needs fitness certification courses for personal trainers and service providers who want to work autism and other disabilities.

 

 

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