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.
What is the difference between autism and ADHD? Is ADHD on the autism spectrum? Learn more about ADHD and Asperger’s.
What Is ADHD?
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It was once thought to affect only children, but it is now recognized to affect adults as well. ADHD is believed to either begin at a very early age or be present from birth. The signs are typically recognized when a child reaches school age and begins to struggle with school assignments or obedience. However, children can be diagnosed with ADHD after they turn age 3.
Children and adults with ADHD may struggle to keep up with their peers when it comes to tasks that require mental focus and long periods of understimulating activity. ADHD can also come with other issues, such as learning disabilities, anxiety, and depression.
It’s thought that low levels of rewarding chemicals in the brain cause ADHD. Dopamine is a natural brain chemical that is commonly tied to reward and motivation. Ambient levels of dopamine help motivate you through tasks. Low dopamine levels could make it hard for you to maintain motivation, and distractions may become challenging to resist.
Treatment can help someone with ADHD overcome troubling symptoms. In many cases, stimulant medications are used to increase the brain’s dopamine levels.
What Is Asperger Syndrome?
Asperger syndrome is a subcategory on the autism spectrum that has been replaced by the merger of several neurodevelopmental disorders into autism spectrum disorders. Still, some professionals continue to refer to Asperger’s as an autism spectrum disorder that comes with the symptoms of Asperger’s.
Asperger syndrome involves a mix of social challenges, verbal language issues, and other symptoms that may also be seen in someone with ADHD. People with Asperger’s may have trouble understanding emotional or social cues, avoid eye contact, and have a higher risk of being socially isolated.
Unlike other autism spectrum disorders, people with Asperger’s tend to be highly verbal and may gravitate to talking about themselves or their interests. When having a conversation, people with Asperger’s may interpret things literally and may not at first understand popular idioms, sarcasm, or embellishments. However, they tend to use sophisticated language with a wide vocabulary.
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.
How Are ADHD and Asperger’s Similar?
While these two disorders are completely distinct, they do share some similarities. In some cases, Asperger’s and ADHD may be mistaken for one another during diagnosis.
Since they are both neurodevelopmental disorders, they both may be noticed at an early age, which adds to the challenge of telling them apart. They can both cause social and academic issues in school-age children that persist into adulthood.
People with Asperger’s and ADHD tend to be interested in specific objects and topics, like puzzles, systems, and technology. They may also be hyper-fixated on their interests with little interest in other typical aspects of their lives. People with Asperger’s may have awkward body movements and postures. For instance, they may not know what to do with their hands while standing. This may be similar to the fidgeting and frequent movement of someone with ADHD.
People with Asperger’s may be bothered in overstimulating settings with certain lights, noises, or textures. A person with ADHD may also struggle in these settings because they offer multiple distractions that are hard to avoid.
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.