AuDHD: Autism and ADHD Comorbidity

What is AuDHD? Autism and ADHD Comorbidity

Many people with ADHD also have one or more other co-occurring conditions. This phenomenon, known as ‘complex ADHD,’ characterizes roughly two-thirds of people with ADHD.

One manifestation of this complex ADHD is known as AuDHD—the intersection of ADHD and autism. Researchers first identified the comorbidity of the two diagnoses in 2013. Since then, there’s been new research that explores just how significant of an overlap there is between autism and ADHD: Roughly 30 to 80 percent of children with autism also meet criteria for ADHD. In addition, 20 to 50 percent of children with ADHD for autism.

ASD and ADHD are Spectrum Disorders

Both ADHD and autism exist on a spectrum. In fact, the formal name for the autism diagnosis in the DSM-5 is autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This means that both disorders encompass a range of symptoms and severity levels, from mild to severe.

One person’s AuDHD diagnosis may look profoundly different from another person’s. Phrased otherwise: One person’s experience with AuDHD may be very different from another person’s, but both are equally valid. Recognizing ADHD and ASD as spectrum disorders is crucial for tailoring support to each unique individual, making for a more inclusive approach to neurodiversity.

An important note about autism diagnoses: well-researched autism self-diagnosis is valid and supported by the autism community. Autism diagnoses are often not accessible, can be expensive, and many adults choose to forgo formal diagnosis as it can expose them to more ableism and in some cases, limit their rights.

Where do autism and ADHD intersect?

Per current research, both ASD and ADHD seem to be highly heritable, ranging from 60-93%. In addition, many people with ASD and ADHD may experience similar traits:

  • Difficulties with executive function
  • Experience with hyperfocus, and having intense and specific interests (though see below for how this trait differs in people with autism vs. ADHD!)
  • Difficulties with sleep and sleep disturbances

However, there are other contrasting traits characteristic of people with ADHD and autism. For example, people with ADHD tend to have a stronger need for novelty, or may engage in more impulsive behaviors, whereas people with autism tend to prefer routine, structure, and sameness. Additionally, ADHD hyperfocus subjects and autistic special interests look very different. ADHD hyperfocus often changes direction, whereas autistic special interests tend to be long-term or life-long.

What support options are there for people with AuDHD?

The research on support options for adults with AuDHD is still in its nascence, with current best practices simply being adapted from work with children.

That being said, there are a few therapeutic strategies most clinicians agree on in managing AuDHD. The main goals of these strategies are to increase self-acceptance, understanding, and advocacy in this relatively newer space.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of therapeutic options for AuDHD non-pharmacological care:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) — with a focus on tailored adjustments for those facing challenges in social communication and intellectual abilities.
    • An important caveat: If using CBT, it is important to find a therapist who is knowledgeable about adult autism, the therapist is not very knowledgeable about autism it can actually cause more harm than good. It is HARD to find a therapist who is knowledgeable about adult autism so it’s a really tricky thing.
  • Psychoeducation— which may help individuals and their families to better understand AuDHD, as well as to learn coping strategies to manage day-to-day challenges effectively.
  • Coaching — with a focus on self-acceptance, normalization of autism, and gradual, at-your-own-pace unmasking

Tailoring ADHD Coaching to Address Autism and ADHD

ADHD coaching will look different for people with AuDHD, and even within the AuDHD community. Adults with AuDHD who are looking to explore coaching are often experiencing autistic burnout, which can take months or years to heal. Finding a coach who is well-versed in this subject is crucial for the most effective results.

Free Resources for the AuDHD Community

The AuDHD community is rich with resources and creators dedicated to sharing insights, strategies, and support. Here are some free resources and notable creators to follow:

  • ADHD Foundation: Offers a variety of resources and tools for managing ADHD, with materials that can be beneficial for those with AuDHD.
  • The Asperger/Autism Network (AANE): Provides information, education, and support for individuals across the autism spectrum.
  • Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN): An organization run by and for autistic people, offering resources and advocacy for autism-related issues.
  • Neurodivergent Doctor: A list of ASD and ADHD ally providers. This is a great resource for people looking to get a diagnosis.
  • Neurodivergent Insights: Run by Dr. Megan Neff, an AuDHD psychologist. Free resources for  delving deeper into ADHD, autism, and the overlap and contrast between those conditions and other common comorbidities (schizophrenia, PTSD, OCPD, and others).

By exploring these resources and connecting with the AuDHD community, individuals can find valuable support, information, and a sense of belonging.

Understanding the intersection of autism and ADHD is essential for providing the best support for individuals. Supporting AuDHD can look very different from addressing just autism or ADHD. There’s quite a bit more research to be done on this comorbidity. Through tailored strategies, supportive resources, and compassion, we can all stand to improve the lives of individuals navigating the complexities of AuDHD.

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