The Difference Between Autism and ADHD

What is the difference between autism and ADHD? This is a very common question as many are unaware of the differences between the two conditions. This article will delve into the main differences and some similarities between autism and ADHD.

Autism Spectrum disorder

This is the medical term for autism. This is a condition that one is born with or diagnosed with at a very young age. Thus, it essentially means that an autistic brain functions in a very different way to those without the condition. So it’s not an illness, a disease or a medical condition that can be treated per se or ‘cured’. It’s something the person will have their whole life.

Behavioural signs

Those with autism tend to:

  • do and/or think the same things again and again
  • get very anxious/upset about unfamiliar situations and social situations
  • feel overwhelmed or stressed by bright lights and loud noises
  • find it hard to understand others’ feelings (empathise)
  • find communication and social interactions very difficult
  • picky/selective eaters

Further information

Autism is a spectrum. This means that not everyone with the condition will have the same experiences. Some who live with autism need very little or no support. Still, others may need parental care or help from a carer every day. Asperger’s is a form of autism. Essentially, it’s used to describe autistic individuals with average or above-average intelligence. Autism isn’t a learning disorder, but many with autism have learning difficulties. Hence, those who have Asperger’s have autism but no learning difficulties. Autistic individuals may also have other conditions such as:


ADHD is also a condition that one is born with or diagnosed with at an early age. However, unlike autism, medication can be given to those with ADHD, to minimise or manage the effects of their condition. ADHD is split into 2 kinds of behavioural camps:

  • hyperactivity and impulsiveness
  • inattentiveness

Most individuals with ADHD fall into both behavioural categories, but not all. This is because some only display inattentive behaviour, without the hyperactivity or impulsiveness. This is simply called ADD ( Attention Deficit Disorder). Often ADD goes unnoticed because the behavioural symptoms are less obvious. Those with it may be diagnosed well into their adult years.

Behavioural signs

Those with ADHD tend to:

  • appear forgetful and/or lose things often
  • have trouble sleeping and waking
  • have difficulty concentrating
  • daydream or appear to not be listening
  • struggle to listen to and carry out instructions
  • fidget and/or struggle to sit still
  • have little or no sense of danger or risk
  • interrupt conversations
  • act without thinking
  • talk and/or move excessively

It’s important to note that those with ADHD often have other accompanying conditions such as:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • Tourette’s syndrome (involuntary noises and movements)
  • epilepsy
  • autism
  • learning difficulties such as dyslexia

The difference between autism and ADHD

The main difference between ADHD and autism is that ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition. This means that it affects the way the nervous system develops. However, autism is a range of these conditions, not just one. Further, all these conditions affect brain functioning. This could impact:

  • emotions/emotional behaviour
  • learning ability
  • memory
  • impulse control

Those with ADHD mainly struggle to concentrate, pay attention and control impulses. However, those with autism mainly struggle with social skills, communication and repetitive behaviours.

Similarities between autism and ADHD

Evidently, there are a few similarities between both conditions. A clear behavioural symptom overlap is trouble with social skills. Therefore an individuals with autism or ADHD may miss social cues or be unable to interpret them. This can make it hard to integrate socially. Accompanying anxiety and depression are common with both ADHD and autism. These are usually a result of either condition. However, unlike the condition, they are not lifelong and can be treated. Have a look at our pages 6 things to help with anxiety and how plants can help with mild depression for helpful advice.

Many treat mental disorders as ‘life sentences, which just increases the stigma around them. Autism and ADHD are not ‘life sentences’, they’re simply just life. And there are so many things that can be done to help manage both conditions. Diet is a key factor. There are many foods and supplements which aid brain functioning. This can help those with conditions that affect the brain. This is especially important for those with autism. This is because many are picky eaters and receive less of the necessary vitamins/minerals for cognitive functioning.

Thus, by highlighting the differences between autism and ADHD, we aim to help you be aware of the issues and unseen battles that many face. Now you know what they are, you can help yourself and others who have either condition.