Autism and ADHD: Understanding the Possible Interconnections

Are Autism and ADHD Linked

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Dive into the intricate world of neurodevelopment with our blog, “Autism and ADHD: Understanding the Possible Interconnections.” Uncover valuable insights into the potential links between Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Explore the latest research, shared traits, and overlapping characteristics, providing a comprehensive understanding of the complex relationship. Gain knowledge that goes beyond labels, offering a nuanced perspective on neurodiversity. Navigate the realms of Autism and ADHD, examining commonalities and distinctions to foster a deeper comprehension of these neurodevelopmental conditions. Join us on a journey to unravel the connections and nuances shaping the landscape of neurodiversity.

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

Both ADHD and autism are neurodevelopmental disorders that can present with overlapping symptoms. Both conditions can involve difficulties with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. Individuals with ADHD may also experience sensory sensitivities and difficulties with executive functioning, which are common symptoms seen in people with autism as well. Despite these similarities, it is important to recognize that ADHD and autism are distinct disorders with their own unique characteristics and diagnostic criteria. Understanding the similarities and connections between ADHD and autism can help inform treatment strategies and support individuals who may have both conditions.


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!

Research Studies

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

The study published in the Journal of Pediatrics in October 2014, VOLUME 134 / ISSUE 4, reported that physical activity had “measurable positive effects on (the) children’s cognitive performance and brain structure and function.” Specifically, the study examined 221 ADHD children aged 7-9 who participated in structured and monitored after-school fitness programs. Using “behavioral and electrophysiological measures of brain function to quantify and record the enhanced attentional inhibition and cognitive flexibility,” the study found that the children experienced significant benefits from the program.

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.

Additionally, Dr. Myers’ expertise on children and adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and learning disabilities spans over 35 years. If you are like most parents of an ADD/ADHD child, you know only too well the many challenges this type of child presents. Moreover, 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 some examples of his many exercises to improve ADD and ADHD

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.

Storytelling Games

Additionally, role-playing activities involving stories and games combined with physical acting out of the characters can be a fun and engaging way to spend time with your child. This activity requires only a book or storyline and imagination. For example, your child can become a pirate, princess, dinosaur, or any character they choose to act out. By incorporating this role-play activity and physical acting out into your child’s routine, you can help improve their memory and concentration skills. 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

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

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’s age 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 with autism and other disabilities.

Special Strong provides adaptive fitness for children, adolescents, and adults with mental, physical and cognitive challenges. Start your own Special Strong gym franchise today and create a lasting impact on your community.