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AuDHD: The Connection Between Autism and ADHD

Updated: Jul 12

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism are often thought of as two separate neurotypes, but what if we told you the two conditions also share a great deal of similarities? 


Both conditions are a form of neurodivergence and neurodevelopmental disorder. 


This means that autistic individuals and ADHDers both differ in the way their brains function and interpret information around them. Both conditions cause differences in the brain that reflect in areas of functioning. 

Image of an AuDHD child with accommodation supports

In addition, autism and ADHD frequently co-occur at high rates. This connection is known as AuDHD. 


Some of the challenges of being an AuDHDer include executive dysfunction, emotional dysregulation, rejection sensitivity, and sensory overwhelm. 


Moreover, if you’ve both conditions, you may experience an internal battle between your competing autistic and ADHD traits. 


If you are experiencing the unique challenges of autism and ADHD, an autism and ADHD coach may be of support. 


Read on to discover more about ADHD, and autism and the similarities and differences between these two conditions.


What is ADHD?  


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental condition that can come with a variety of impulsive, hyperactive, and inattentive traits. 


It’s also a neurodivergence that impacts the way ADHDers interact with the world. 


Around 366.33 million people worldwide are considered to be ADHDers, which is approximately 5% of the worldwide population.


Although it is more common for a person to be diagnosed with ADHD in childhood, many individuals go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed until adulthood. 


There are some common signs of ADHD, which include:



There are three types of ADHD that differ in which traits they show. 


While the hyperactive-impulsive type primarily displays traits related to impulsiveness and hyperactivity, the inattentive type displays traits related to inattentiveness. 


Another type of ADHD, combined-type ADHD


You must have had some of these symptoms before the age of 12 to be diagnosed with ADHD. 


These symptoms usually have an impact on functioning in core areas of life, such as work or school life. 


If you think you have these symptoms of ADHD and are looking for support, you can see an ADHD coach at Blue Sky Learning or request an adult ADHD assessment from a Blue Sky Learning partner organization. 


You can also check out our guide on getting diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.


What is Autism?


Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition that can come with a variety of brain development challenges. 


As part of the name suggests, autism is a spectrum. This means that autistic individuals will differ in which traits they have difficulties in and in the severity of those difficulties. 


Some of these traits include:


  • Communication struggles

  • Difficulty with eye contact

  • Emotion dysregulation

  • Executive dysfunction

  • Hypersensitivity or sensory processing issues

  • Specific focused interest toward certain topics

  • Dislike of change or liking routine

  • Preference for solitary activities

  • Superior abilities in a specific area

  • Repetitive behaviors or stimming


These traits may differ across genders. Females are more likely to go misdiagnosed or undiagnosed until adulthood because they may show less stereotypical signs of autism.


Autistic women are more likely to hide their traits and blend into social situations.


If you suspect you may be autistic, we recommend checking out this online autism questionnaire by Embrace Autism. While this is not a tool to diagnose you, it can be of support for you to see if you should seek a diagnosis. 


What are the similarities between autism and ADHD?


Up until 2013, if you were diagnosed with one of these conditions, you could not be diagnosed with the other. 


However, in 2013, the DSM-5 criteria were changed to allow for the two to be diagnosed together. 


These two conditions are also commonly comorbid with other conditions. 


For example, autism is comorbid with conditions such as anxiety, depression, sleep issues, epilepsy, gastrointestinal issues, learning disabilities, immune system issues, and more. 



These AuDHD individuals may experience the following traits overlap:


  • Sensory difficulties 

  • Strong responses to real or perceived rejection

  • Executive dysfunction

  • Social challenges

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Difficulties with interoception


Each of these traits can cause AuDHD individuals to navigate the world differently. These individuals have unique challenges and strengths that are different from non-AuDHD individuals. 


Statistics on the autism and ADHD Overlap


The strong connection between autism and ADHD can be explained using statistics. 


According to the 2019 Canadian Health Survey on Children and Youth (CHSCY), autism and ADHD are the two most common co-occurring health conditions among children and adolescents. 


36.5% of autistic children also meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. 


According to the scientific literature, 50 to 70% of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also present with comorbid attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Hours et al., 2022) 


Males are more likely than other genders to receive a dual diagnosis based on these overlapping traits (Zablotsky et al., 2020).


What is interesting is that there seems to be a relationship such that autistic individuals are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than the reverse being true. 


One recent study from the United States reported 43.8% of children with autism also had co-occurring ADHD, while only 13.9% of those with ADHD had co-occurring autism (Casseus et al., 2023). 


Researchers aren’t exactly sure of the cause of this connection. 


Some suggest individuals with both of these conditions may share similar genetic profiles. (Sokolova et al., 2017). 


More research is needed to understand this connection. This is especially important for diagnostic purposes. 


A strong overlap between the two conditions without understanding the differences can make a diagnosis of each of these conditions separately a unique challenge. 


How to tell the difference between autism and ADHD


While both autism and ADHD have strong similarities, some differences exist that can help inform diagnosis and treatment for each separately.


Routine versus Change 


Autistic individuals tend to crave routines and things that are similar or are in order. 


On the other hand, ADHDers tend to be more fond of novelty and impulsivity. They may become bored and disinterested easily with structure, while autistic individuals may become overwhelmed with change. 


Communication Differences


Another key difference may be seen in communication styles.


 While both ADHDers and autistic individuals may struggle with social interactions, there are usually different reasons for each. 


ADHDers are more likely to talk excessively, blurt things out, and interrupt people if they have the hyperactive-impulsive or combined type of ADHD. 


Conversely, Autistic individuals are more likely to struggle with expressing emotions, initiating a conversation, eye contact, body language, and taking turns during playtime.


Attention Span


Lastly, the attention span of ADHDers and autistic individuals is different.


ADHD individuals get easily distracted and struggle to keep the focus on the same thing. 


Whereas, autistic individuals can focus on very specific things that they enjoy (special interests), while not being able to focus on things that aren’t special interests.  


If something fits in a special interest category, they may be able to remember a ton of specific details about the topic that most people wouldn’t be able to. 


Support for AuDHDers


Supporting yourself and other AuDHD individuals comes from a neurodivergent-affirming perspective. 


In this approach, you recognize your own unique challenges and strengths and seek to provide an individualized and holistic plan for your AuDHD based on this. 


Supports aim to understand the differences in brain structure and being of neurodivergent individuals, rather than trying to fix or change a person. 


Neurodivergent Affirming Coaching


Neurodivergent-affirming coaching encourages you to look at your neurodivergence as a strength and something that makes the world a better and more diverse space. 


This includes affirming all aspects of your identity, such as neuroqueerness.


The autism and ADHD coaching will lean into your strengths here which may include creativity, outside the box thinking, strong visual-spatial abilities, and your special interests. 


This will support you in discovering how these strengths can be used to your advantage to support you with your challenges in daily living. 


While it simultaneously addresses your unique challenges as an AuDHD and supports you in learning how to accommodate yourself and find supportive environments. 


Neurodivergent-Affirming Counselling


This form of counselling is similar to coaching, but a key difference is that counsellors use therapeutic modalities to support you. 


These treatment modalities used in neurodivergent-affirming counselling include dialectical behavioral therapy, somatic therapy, interfamily systems, and more. 


Counsellors can use these modalities to support you with co-morbid mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. 


If you are considering therapy or coaching, there are some steps you can take to prepare for the initial first session. 


Accommodations and Environmental Changes


Sometimes your environment may exacerbate your AuDHD traits. One way to support you through this is to craft your environment to your needs. 


If you experience sensory overload, noise-canceling headphones, white noise, adjusted lighting, fidget toys and other sensory calming items may be beneficial for you. 


Additionally, academic coaching can help with finding out what accommodations work best for you. 


This could include, taking breaks to go outside, working or doing school work remotely, or operating with flexible work hours, may also be of support. 


Executive Functioning Support


Given that a lot of the challenges for AuDHDers stem from executive functioning, or the ability to plan ahead, focus, regulate emotions, remember and juggle tasks, it is no surprise that we have listed executive functioning supports here. 


These supports could involve learning about various productivity tools that may help you manage your time, find structure and routine and multitask. 


Relationship Supports


Sometimes AuDHD can impact your ability to form friendships or your romantic relationships. 


There are supports, such as couples counselling that can help you and your partner(s) to understand each other's challenges and strengthen communication within the relationship. 


Book a Free Consultation With Blue Sky Learning


Blue Sky Learning provides the opportunity for students, professionals, parental guardians, and educators to connect with them regarding individual concerns and areas of growth. 


Blue Sky Learning strives to provide a service where clients feel safe, supported, and intersectionality understood. 


Blue Sky Learning aims to reduce stigma and shame cycles, deepen client understanding of internalized ableism, and empower areas of avoidance to increase your value of motivation.


Blue Sky Learning team members embody values of compassion, empathy, and person-centered approaches. 


DId you read this and think you may be an AuDHDer?


Or, are you an AuDHDer seeking an autism and ADHD coach or therapist? 


Book a free 20-minute consultation with one of the Blue Sky Learning team members by emailing hello@blueskylearning.ca or head on over to the Blue Sky Learning website.


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