What are some of the major differences between autism and ADD/ADHD? Stuff like impulse control, executive function issues, stimming etc are pretty common to both of them, and i know a good handful of autistic people (myself included) who got misdiagnosed as ADD/ADHD as a kid. And the fact that the two can be comorbid just makes it more confusing
eokay so first of all: i have both. so of course i cannot distinguish between both, because both are “me”. so i’m making the distinction by what i read more often in ADHD or autism contexts.
the things i’m listing are not diagnostic criteria, just things that i have seen talked about often. you might not relate to all of them even if you have ADHD / autism. additionally, having one or a few traits of something does not mean you definitely have it, but if you go “yes! that’s me!” at most or all of them, you might check the thing out more thoroughly.
there’s a summary at the end
things that are more ADHD and less autism:
impulsivity. i get an idea and then i immediately drop whatever i am doing (often quite literally) and do the other thing. for example: i am preparing a sandwidch. i am in the process of putting butter on the bread. then i think: i want tea. in that same second i drop the knife, on the floor, turn around to the water boiler and switch it on. then i realize that dropping the knife was probably not such a good idea because it’s dirty now.
getting distracted. not by anything specifically, just.. anything. for example, i opened this ask and wanted to answer. then i got distracted for 15 minutes and forgot all about it until i accidentally opened this tab again. i described this in this slightly funny post: my general idea of functioning is getting distracted often enough so that i eventually come back to the thing i was originally doing.
constantly forgetting what you were just doing or thinking. this is pretty much what leads to both being easily distracted and impulsivity. it’s more than just forgetting. it is completely forgetting about the idea of a thing possibly occurring. you’re having an intense, captivating tumblr chat with someone and then you go to the bathroom and it is gone from your brain. you go bake some cookies, read a book, cut your hair, and when you come back to the computer it’s ohhhhh shit i was having a conversation until i suddenly disappeared… 3 hours ago.
being unable to sit still ever. it is more than just stimming. it is stimming 120% of the time. it is doing multiple stims at the same time always. i CAN not sit still. it does not happen. i am unable to not stim.
hyperfocusing randomly. like what i am doing with this post right now. i started typing and then i got completely caught up on it and now i cannot stop and i forget the time and anything else i was going to do because this post is my world now and i. must. finish.
hyperactivity. i cannot describe this better than ALALAL ALALALA KLHADFUILSDHFJKUIEF!!!!!!!!!! LKSKSHALALALAL!!!!!!!!! it’s jumping around the room. running up the walls. sitting upside-down on your chair while screaming from laughter. spamming your twitter with 200 tweets that just say “CACTUS!!!!!!!!!! MOLAR TOOTH!!! CACTUS!!!!!!!” while laughing your ass off.
losing every object. always. misplacing objects that you were actually using just now. pencils, headphones, jewellery, coffee cup, everything. where is my phone that i was using 20 seconds ago? i have no idea. 3 hours later i find it in the laundry basket. or on some door handle. losing ridiculously large objects that you cannot possibly lose and being unable to locate them for hours. objects that i have misplaced inside a 40 square meters apartment: laundry basket, mattress, chairs, tables, small oven, computer, and many others. you get the idea.
forgetting plans and appointments and everything really. i recently learned that some people can actually keep complex plans in their heads. a fellow autistic explained me that he can remember everything he needs to do and lie it down neatly in his mind. i don’t think every autistic is as good with that as he is, but most people have some sort of idea what their next big tasks are. i don’t. i don’t even know where i wrote them down. i also forget appointments because even if i remember that i have plans for wednesday, that does not automatically mean that i realize when wednesday is happening.
addiction to distraction and entertainment. boredom is torture, and i don’t mean that as an exaggeration. sitting in a waiting room drives you up the wall, sometimes quite literally. forgetting your phone is not just irritating and means you have to read the cereal box. no. you build a tower out of the cereal boxes and jump on the table. when the party is going slow you collect all the paper flyers and fold 100 airplanes and shred the rest of the flyers to pieces. not being able to concentrate without loud music in the background.
things that are more autism and less ADHD:
sensory hypersensitivities. not just getting distracted or annoyed by bad sensory input, but actually getting hurt and deeply uncomfortable. not being able to even sit near someone with deodorant on. starting to cry whenever you get cold. ripping your shirt off because the tag was too scratchy.
sensory hyposensitivities. not being able to feel the pain from scratches. not being able to enjoy music unless it is ridiculously loud drumming against your ears, while not being hard of hearing. only being able to calm down when something is pressing against your ribcage so hard you can hardly breathe. enjoying bright flickering lights right against your eyeballs.
the bliss that stimming is. it is not just “something that feels pleasant”. it is something that makes you feel whole. it is something that puts you in a place where everything is good and right and the right stim fills you up with pure bliss. you soak it up like a sponge and you feel like you’re flying and it’s the best thing. it clears your mind and soothes your soul.
the overwhelm of sensory overload. you literally cannot function in a loud, crowded area. sensory overload makes you forget how to think. you immediately shut down or meltdown. you become helpless. you can not get yourself out of this situation safely. you get lost. you are unable to figure out a way to get out of the situation. you can get in real danger because of sensory overload if you do not have help or luck.
auditory and visual processing difficulties. needing subtitles for every movie you watch, even though you are neither Deaf nor hard of hearing. constantly going “what? say that again? HUH?? i can’t hear you over that noise!” while everyone around you is conversing easily. being unable to decipher an image quickly. being unable to read maps or flowcharts.
trouble with verbal communication. you might be nonverbal sometimes or always. you might have problems saying the right words. you might rely on scripting heavily, that means you have fixed rules of what to say in which situations. you might be unable to react if your script stops working because someone says something unexpected. you might be unable to say what you mean because you cannot find words fast enough. you might say things that you do NOT mean because you have heard them somewhere so the words are more easily found.
trouble with nonverbal communication. not being able to read tone of voice, facial impressions and allistic body language. constantly being misinterpreted because you make the “wrong” body language or facial impressions or tone. not being able to recognize irony and jokes because you can’t take the subtle hints that people give about them. not being able to interpret emojis and emoticons. not being able to recognize the difference between “hello”, “hello!” and “hello…”. coming off across as “rude”, “weird”, “scary” or something else that you are not.
being unable to figure out social rules and conventions. why do you always have to answer “fine” to the question “how are you?”? why does a person think that i hate them just because i do not like talking to them? why do people think i like them just because i was talking to them? which people do you call by their first name and which by their last name? why do people laugh about me just because i hugged my teacher? nobody laughs when i hug my friend.
relying on sameness, rules, schedules and rituals. no, i cannot drink tea out of the coffee cup. it Does Not Work. i cannot sleep without my squishy pillow. i cannot wear my Outside clothes inside. when i make a plan, things have to go EXACTLY as planned or i melt down. i cry when i lose my favourite stim toy. it can also mean: having to do the same things every day at the same time. getting overwhelmed by changes. not being able to function in an unfamiliar schedule. not being able to do things out of order. not being able to sleep with the Wrong sheets. not being able to eat from red dishes. and many others.
things that are both autism and ADHD:
needing to fidget or stim. being unable to concentrate or calm down without moving or specific sensory input. not being able to function properly when not allowed to stim. shutting or melting down when not being able to stim.
special interests or hyperfixations. “special interest” is the autism term and “hyperfixation” is the ADHD term. it means fixating on a certain subject so intensely that you can hardly think about anything else. some people learn subjects very deeply in a very short time. it means getting caught up in it. it’s what you think about in every second. like being in love, only with a subject instead of a person.
living in a fantasy world. retreating into a safe space to escape from a world that is not very kind to us. hyperfixating on a story or a fantasy world or dreamworld as an interest, either as a refuge or as a special interest or both.
trouble with socializing. being ridiculed for being “weird”. being unable to function well in social situations because of your specific disabilities. having a hard time maintaining friendships and other social relationships.
appearing eccentric. dressing and behaving in unusual ways. having unconventional interests and hobbies. being unable to connect with most other people, being the “different” person in most groups. having social positions such as the “class clown” or “the outcast” - entertaining everyone else or distancing yourself from everyone else.
appearing childlike or younger than you are. never getting rid off childlike behaviours. stimming and fidgeting because you like it or because it helps. not caring about how you look. having hobbies and interests that are seen as “childish”. impulsive actions that appear childlike. behaviour that is seen as childlike.
executive dysfunction. being unable to do things even though you really want to do them. being unable to start tasks or switch tasks. being unable to recall what you know in an unfamiliar situation. being unable to figure out the steps necessary for completing a task.
reactions to over- and understimulations. you might start to fidget or stim. you might try to get away or get angry or cry because things are too much or because there’s not enough stimulation. you might fall asleep in class because it’s too little stimulation. you might cry in class because it’s too much stimulation.
meltdowns / shutdowns. having reactions that are stronger than is deemed appropriate to negative things like adverse sensory input, emotional stress, etc. that means breaking down crying from small things, having rage fits over small things going wrong, or on the other side completely shutting down, flopping on the floor, freezing in place etc. in case of under- or overstimulation or emotional stress.
developing anxiety or depression. social or generalized anxiety as well as depression are common in people with ADHD and autistics because we often get bullied, our disabilities are often exploited to hurt us, and we may get excluded, ridiculed and hurt on a regular basis. we might despair because we never seem to fit in. we might overcompensate and overtax ourselves in order to appear “normal”. we might burn out as a result.
creativity and unconventional thinking. getting ideas that nobody else has. making connections nobody else would even think of. being good at finding similarities, patterns, and differences.
daydreaming and spacing out. shutting down or simply daydreaming your way through situations that you cannot function in because of your specific disabilities. forgetting what you were doing and just dreaming away. getting lost in thoughts. dissociating from adverse sensory input. escaping from the reality that is hard to bear or just getting distracted.
getting caught up in a task. hyperfocusing on a thing that you are doing or being unable to initiate the end of an action. being unable to interrupt your train of thought or action. being unable to switch tasks.
i don’t claim completeness for this list. so.
more ADHD than autism:
- getting distracted
- constantly forgetting what you were just doing or thinking
- being unable to sit still ever
- hyperfocusing randomly
- losing every object. always
- forgetting plans and appointments and everything really
- addiction to distraction and entertainment
more autism than ADHD:
- sensory hypersensitivities
- sensory hyposensitivities
- the bliss that stimming is
- the overwhelm of sensory overload
- auditory and visual processing difficulties
- trouble with verbal communication
- trouble with nonverbal communication
- being unable to figure out social rules and conventions
- relying on sameness, rules, schedules and rituals
both autism and ADHD:
- needing to fidget or stim
- special interests or hyperfixations
- living in a fantasy world
- trouble with socializing
- appearing eccentric
- appearing childlike or younger than you are
- executive dysfunction
- reactions to over- and understimulations
- meltdowns / shutdowns
- developing anxiety or depression
- creativity and unconventional thinking
- daydreaming and spacing out
- getting caught up in a task
so that got a lot more elaborate than i was planning… anyway. i hope it answers your question, anon