ADHD And Autism: Knowing The Difference

When my niece turned 3, we noticed that she was different. She was bubblier, more active, and more loud. We couldn’t let her sit still for a few minutes, and it’s just so difficult to let her pay attention. My sister asked me once, “Is something wrong with her? Is she autistic or something?” I said, “She’s just being a kid.”




Two years after, we finally decided to have her evaluated by an occupational therapist from her school. The OT’s notes revealed that my niece had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and was advised to have her diagnosed by a specialist.


ADHD and ASD Defined

 Unlike a decade ago, both ADHD and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) are conditions that almost all of us know about. We are aware that they begin during childhood and progress through adulthood. Both autism and hyperactivity disorders are characterized by an inability to pay attention, always on the move, and having episodic tantrums. In fact, these two can overlap each other. The latest edition of the DSM (which is DSM-V) has established that a person can be diagnosed with ADHD and ASD.

But how can you tell ADHD from Autism? How do they differ and when can you say that your child has ADHD but not autistic? Here are some of the essential differences that you should know to understand the two childhood disorders.


Differences between ADHD and Autism

ADHD is divided into specific categories, while autistic kids have one general diagnosis and their symptoms are described as being a spectrum, as it consists of a group of neurological symptoms. Some ADHD kids are more hyperactive than the others, some are more inattentive, and some manifest with too much inattention and hyperactivity.  “Sometimes parents don’t know what ADHD is or what it means, which can lead to a lot of misconceptions and fears,” says Gayani DeSilva, MD

ASD, on the other hand, is one among the five disorders that make up ASD, the other four being Asperger’s syndrome, pervasive developmental disorders, childhood disintegrative disorder and Rett syndrome.




ASD children have more problems with communication. They are unable to communicate appropriately because they don’t understand what others are talking about. Additionally, their speech is delayed and if they start learning how to talk, they tend to repeat their words or phrases. “The symptoms may range from total lack of communication with others to difficulty in understanding others’ feelings,” Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D. explains.

The struggles of ADHD children are more on the social aspect, where they are inattentive and almost always interfere with other people’s conversations.  They can’t sit still for a few minutes and therefore are not able to finish homework or other activities without supervision. They are also impulsive, and when they do something that causes commotions or accidents, they get frustrated and usually have meltdowns or tantrums.




Children with ADHD are usually more effective at making friends compared to children with ASD. The first reason for this is that autistic kids can’t look people in the eye, as they have gaze problems. Eye contact is very difficult for them, while ADHD kids, despite their hyperactive behaviors, can capably look people in the eye and communicate with them, although inconsistently and in shorter periods.

“It’s vital for parents to obtain a very thorough evaluation of their child, with a detailed history and understanding of the child’s current behavior, and for parents to receive a thorough explanation regarding the results,” John Carosso, PsyD points out.

 Final Thoughts

Despite the few key differences between ADHD and ASD, these two pediatric conditions have one distinct similarity: they are both incurable. Nevertheless, it is fortunate for parents to know that there are continuous studies done and trials performed every year to understand and hopefully find better solutions for these conditions.

Today, there are various treatments that can help manage ADHD and ASD symptoms, so that children affected will not only thrive but also live as normally as they possibly can – because they deserve it.