Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have a great deal in common, and they can often resemble one another, especially in young children.

In 2018, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 1 in 59 (1.6 percent) children are diagnosed with autism. These percentages account for millions of children in the United States. Both of these disorders share similarities that can make them challenging to tell apart in some children. However, they are two different disorders.

Autism is a combination of developmental disorders that can affect language, communication, behavior, social skills, and the ability to learn.

ADHD affects the way the brain grows and the levels of certain chemical messengers in the brain. Though both disorders share similarities, it’s important to tell them apart because they’re treated differently.

A misdiagnosis can mean ineffective treatment. However, both disorders are treatable, and children and adults who have them can learn to lead productive and fulfilled lives. Learn more about ADHD and autism and how these disorders are related.

How Are ADHD And Autism Similar?


There is debate among researchers as to whether a person is born with ADHD and autism or if the person develops it during childhood. There is significant evidence that ADHD is caused by genetic factors.

ADHD seems to cause changes in the brain, particularly in the size of the frontal lobe. Twin studies and other genetics research has shown a link between ADHD and your genes. Still, that could mean you are predisposed to the disorder, not that you are guaranteed to have it.

The cause of autism is also currently unclear, given what we understand about the disorder. Some experts believe that a person isn’t born with autism and that it’s something you develop later. Still, most researchers agree that it’s caused by a combination of genetic and developmental factors.

One potential cause could be disruptions in brain growth during development that might be caused by genetic defects. Research also shows that autism is more common among children who are born prematurely. Though their specific causes are different, both ADHD and autism are influenced by genes and development. They often appear around the same time and can be difficult to tell apart.

Both ADHD and autism are disorders that may manifest symptoms at an early age in a way that can slow development and learning. Many of their signs and symptoms overlap. Plus, even different symptoms can cause similar consequences, like having trouble making friends, struggling in school, or causing anxiety or depression. It’s also possible to have both disorders at the same time, which makes it very difficult to diagnose.

  • Delayed development. Both disorders can cause a delay in social development, communication skills, and other areas.
  • Focus issues. Both disorders can make it difficult for a person to focus on specific tasks. People with autism may be hyper-focused on interests and may have trouble paying attention to uninteresting tasks. They may also obsess over order and details, which makes it difficult to complete tasks. People with ADHD may be distracted by other stimulation that makes focusing on one task a challenge.
  • Impulsivity. Impulsive behavior, short attention spans, and hyperactivity are common in both autism and ADHD.
  • Social issues. People with ADHD and autism may have issues relating to other people’s emotions and feelings. People on the autism spectrum may have difficulties recognizing facial expressions and understanding social cues that involve emotion. People with ADHD may struggle to give someone attention when they want emotional commiseration, or they may be inattentive emotional cues.

How Are ADHD And Autism Different?

If you are worried about one of these disorders in a child, one of the key ways to differentiate ADHD and autism is to look at how your child pays attention. Children with autism have strong interests and fixate on those interests while struggling to pay attention to things they aren’t interested in.

During playtime, they may focus on a particular toy, playing with it, in the same way, each time, while ignoring other options. Children with ADHD have a hard time focusing on things that require concentration or long-term focus. They may gravitate toward imaginative or creative tasks but struggle with monotonous tasks.

Communication is another key indicator of a difference between these two disorders. Children with autism have less social awareness and may struggle with determining appropriate personal space, volume levels, eye contact, and expressing thoughts and feelings.

Children with ADHD might struggle to pay attention to social cues, but they can understand them when they pay attention. Children with ADHD also tend to have moments where they talk nonstop or interrupt others to maintain interest.

Children with autism tend to gravitate toward order and organization where kids with ADHD avoid organizational tasks. Likewise, ADHD causes an affinity for variety and change where autism may encourage repetition and reliability.

Seeking Treatment

If you or someone you know might be struggling with ADHD or autism, it is important to learn more about treatment options as soon as possible. The right diagnosis and treatment can help you start living a productive life.

Both ADHD and autism can cause significant consequences that affect multiple aspects of life, including one’s relationships, job, school performance, and learning ability. It’s especially important to catch these disorders early in children to help them develop and grow along with their peers.

Learn more about ADHD and autism treatment options today to take your first steps toward better mental health.

Tap to GET HELP NOW: (888) 527-1974