ADHD Versus Autism: What Are the Differences?


ADHD Versus Autism: What Are the Differences?

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Autism and ADHD can sometimes concur. While people with either autism or ADHD can struggle with social skills, be constantly “on the go” and fidget, here are some key differences between the two types of neurodiversity:

Types of Disorder


ADHD is not a spectrum disorder because it is believed to consist of only two types (ADHD and ADD). Autism is a spectrum disorder because there are many types of it such as Kanner’s autism or classic autism on the lower end of the spectrum and high functioning autism and Asperger syndrome on the higher end of the spectrum.


Meltdowns and Shutdowns



In Jessica McCabe from How to ADHD’s ADHD Vs ASD video with Dan Jones from The Aspie World, Dan describes a meltdown as “an outburst of emotional energy that is pent up inside you” whereas a shutdown is “trying to cope with emotional over-stimulation but trying to hold that in, so you’re pushing it down.” Dan also says that people who experience shutdowns lose their sense of hope. Jessica also experiences meltdowns, but they don’t last as long for her as they do in people with autism.


Ability to Speak

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People with ADHD often have the ability to speak and can talk too much, but many people with autism are unable to speak or can have speech delay. People with autism who are able to speak may have an immense vocabulary, but not know what some words mean.


Communication Difficulties

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Besides having the tendency to talk too much, people with ADHD may “not notice how their words affect other people” and “interrupt others” whereas people with autism may find it difficult to express “their emotions and thoughts,” have trouble understanding common everyday expressions, avoid eye contact, recoil from physical contact such as hugging or a touch on the shoulder, focus on one topic of interest and “not respond to or initiate to social interactions.” People with autism may also misinterpret the tone in which things are written, such as e-mails.


Social Difficulties

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Jessica says that she learnt things more slowly than her peers did, such as “when it’s appropriate to say something.” Dan on the other hand has no idea how to position himself in order to give the person next to him some space. He also struggles with reading facial expressions and interpreting someone’s tone of voice. Jessica says she cannot tell if a friend is upset because she gets distracted.


Routine and Structure

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People who have ADHD may find it difficult to do the same things every day because they can get bored easily while people with autism may want to adhere to the same routine every day.


Interests and Attention

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People who have autism or ADHD can hyper-focus on a particular subject that they have an intense interest in; however, those with ADHD can easily become distracted if they focus on the same thing for too long. Those with autism can struggle to focus on topics that they have no interest in and engage in subjects that cover these topics.


Sensory Issues

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Dan’s occupational therapist told him that he had proprioception issues from sensory processing disorder when they suspected he had dyspraxia. This is because Dan said he missed the table when putting drinking glasses down. He also accidently hit himself with the cupboard door whilst removing the glasses because he didn’t know how far away the cupboard door was from him. Dan is sensitive towards certain smells, lights and sounds. He further says that these issues can lead to meltdowns and shutdowns. Jessica does not like to have a lot of tight things on her




While the main differences between ADHD and autism are the types of disorder; causes of meltdowns; the ability to speak; communication difficulties; routine and structure; and interests and attention, they are similar in terms of being incurable neurological conditions. Symptoms of both ADHD and autism can be managed with therapy and medication, although some people with autism might find therapy more beneficial while some people with ADHD might find medication more helpful.




Understood’s The Difference Between ADHD and Autism:


Medical News Today’s What is the difference between autism and ADHD?:


How to ADHD’s ADHD YouTuber vs. ASD YouTuber: Main Differences:


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