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Are ADHD and Aspergers Related?

Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD are two separate conditions that involve brain development. They both develop early in a person’s life and will cause similar behavioral traits. As of 2013, however, the medical community stopped diagnosing Asperger’s Syndrome as a separate condition, but rather, it is now placed under the umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Individuals who are diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome are considered to have mild forms of autism, which are considered “high-functioning” autism.

An article released by the Asperger/Autism Network shows that nearly 60 to 70 percent of those with Asperger’s Syndrome exhibit characteristics similar to ADHD. Although there are some similarities, ASD and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are different conditions with different causes.

Asperger’s and ADHD

Although the two disorders cause similar behavioral patterns, Asperger’s and ADHD are distinctly different. Individuals with Asperger’s find it challenging to understand or respond to social norms. The person with Asperger’s may become overly interested in an object or topic, while someone with ADHD has underlying difficulties with hyperacidity, attention, and problems with impulsivity. Asperger’s and ADHD are both considered neurodevelopmental disorders, but ADHD does not fall under the autism spectrum.

ADHD is far more common than Asperger’s Syndrome, and according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), ADHD affects nine percent of children ages three through 17. In contrast, only one to two percent of people across Asia, North America, and Europe have Asperger’s Syndrome. 

Physicians find it challenging to determine if a child has Asperger’s Syndrome or ADHD, but there are different behavioral traits between the two.

Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD may experience the following characteristics:

  • Unable to regulate attention
  • Unable to follow social rules and understand social cues or norms
  • Highly impulsive

Behavioral traits that occur in Asperger’s Syndrome but not ADHD include:

  • Unable to show empathy
  • Intense interest in one object or topic
  • Different speech or language traits from neurotypical people, such as trouble controlling volume or pitch or speech without inflection
  • Unable to understand irony, sarcasm, or humor
  • Unable to make eye contact or other nonverbal communication
  • Trouble understanding social rules
  • Developmental delays in motor skills

Behavioral traits that may occur in ADHD but not Asperger’s Syndrome include:

  • Daydreaming frequently
  • Taking physical risks or playing too hard
  • Impatience or trouble sitting still during quiet time
  • Understanding but breaking rules
  • Easily distracted and forgetful
  • Unable to focus or pay attention to details

How pronounced a person’s symptoms are will help experts determine Asperger’s from ADHD. For example, an autistic child may find socializing more challenging than someone with ADHD because of their problems interpreting social cues and norms. 

Can You Have Both Disorders?

Yes – a person with Asperger’s Syndrome can have ADHD. Nearly 14 percent of those with the condition have ADHD. The only way to determine which disorder your child is struggling with is by seeing a doctor. As a parent, you must take notes of peculiar behaviors to provide your physician – this will help them make a diagnosis and start the proper treatment. 

Sources

Medical News Today. (June 17, 2019) What to know about Asperger's syndrome and ADHD. Huizen, J., Legg, T. Ph.D, CRNP from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325483.php

National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (August 13, 2019) Autism Spectrum Disorder Fact Sheet. from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Autism-Spectrum-Disorder-Fact-Sheet

Asperger/Autism Network. Is it Asperger’s or ADHD?. Rosenn, D. MD from https://www.aane.org/is-it-aspergers-or-adhd/

National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.) ADHD. from https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/ADHD

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (September 3, 2019) Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder. from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

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