Autism vs. ADHD: What’s The Difference?

Autism and ADHD are both neurodevelopmental disorders that can sometimes be difficult to differentiate thanks to their similar symptoms.

For example, social impairment (i.e., difficulty sustaining a conversation, trouble maintaining eye contact, unable to read social cues, impulsivity, etc.) is a symptom of both disorders. However, while both autistic and ADHD children may struggle with social impairment, ADHD children can typically have reciprocal interactions with their peers and others, whereas autistic children are compromised in this area.

There are several other differences between ADHD and autism, but in general, ADHD’s main symptoms can include difficulty sitting still, focus problems on non-preferred tasks, and/or impulsivity. Autism, on the other hand, typically can include repetitive behaviors, impaired social communication, restricted interests, and rigidity. [i] [ii]

The Drake Institute uses advanced treatment technologies to create customized treatment protocols for patients with autism and ADHD. Brain map-guided neurofeedback and neurostimulation help our ASD and ADHD patients reduce symptoms and lead more functional lives.

For more information regarding our non-drug treatment protocols, call us at 800-700-4233 or fill out the contact form.


What Is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorders are neurodevelopmental disorders. In other words, they affect how the brain develops and functions in infancy, childhood, and adolescence.

Autism can affect anyone, though it is more often diagnosed in boys than in girls. It is estimated that around 1 in every 68 children has some sort of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Symptoms can vary from person to person in type and severity; no two people will have identical cases of ASD nor have the same QEEG brain map abnormal patterns, and it can have overlap with ADHD.[iii]

What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Autism?

Depending on the situation, a reliable diagnosis can usually be achieved by age 2 or 3 in symptomatic children.

Because of the nature of ASD as a neurodevelopmental disorder, monitoring your child’s development compared to peers is a good start to recognizing any behaviors that don’t seem typical. Regular checkups with your pediatrician can also help you identify any potential developmental delays or impairments.

Here are a few signs that could indicate the presence of ASD. [iv]

  • Avoids eye contact
  • Doesn’t respond to name by 9 months of age
  • Lack of facial expressions (e.g., happy, sad, angry, etc.) by 9 months of age
  • Doesn’t play simple interactive games (e.g., pat-e-cake) by 12 months of age
  • Uses few or no hand gestures (e.g., doesn’t wave hello or goodbye) by 12 months of age
  • Doesn’t share interests with others (e.g., doesn’t show you their favorite toy) by 15 months of age
  • Doesn’t point to show you something interesting by 18 months of age
  • Doesn’t notice when others are hurt or upset by 24 months of age
  • Doesn’t notice other children and play with them by 36 months of age
  • Doesn’t pretend to be someone else (e.g., teacher, superhero, etc.) by 48 months of age
  • Doesn’t sing, act, or dance for you by 60 months of age

What Is ADHD?

Like autism, ADHD is also a neurodevelopmental disorder that can impact a child’s day-to-day life. The atypical development of the ADHD brain leads to a difficulty or inability to pay attention, focus, and/or control impulsive behaviors.

The actions of a person with ADHD may seem to indicate that he or she isn’t “trying hard enough” to sit still or concentrate, but in many cases, this person doesn’t have stable neurophysiologic mechanisms necessary for self-regulating behavior.

As with autism, there’s no blood test or other laboratory test to make an ADHD diagnosis. Instead, analyzing brain function is key to understanding how brain functioning is affecting the patient, which is necessary to develop the most targeted and effective treatment.

At the Drake Institute, we use a combination of qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neurostimulation to help patients achieve a reduction of symptoms.

Symptoms of ADHD

One of the similarities between ADHD and autism is that there are variations in how the disorder presents in each patient with different degrees of severity. In fact, there are several different types of ADHD that have their own set of common symptoms. Here’s what you need to know about the symptoms of ADHD:

ADHD: (Inattentive presentation)

  • Inattention
  • Easily distracted
  • Lack of sustained focus on non-preferred tasks
  • Difficulty finishing tasks such as homework without supervision
  • Poor short-term memory (i.e. difficulty following a series of instructions)
  • Often forgetful, such as forgetting homework or turning it in
  • Poor listening skills 

ADHD: (Hyperactive-impulsive presentation)

  • Impulsive (acting without thinking of the consequences, blurting out answers, interrupting, experiencing difficulty waiting one's turn)
  • Hyperactive (fidgety and/or difficulty sitting still) 

ADHD: (Combined presentation)

  • Inattentive symptoms along with hyperactivity/impulsivity 

ADHD: (Unspecified ADHD)

  • Significant clinical impairment but does not meet full criteria of ADHD symptoms 

If any of these symptoms are present, there are still a couple of conditions that must be met before a diagnosis may be reached. First, symptoms must occur more frequently or severely when compared to children/adolescents of the same age. Additionally, the symptoms must cause impairment in academics, work, behavior, or overall achievement. [v]

Differences Between Autism & ADHD

Although these two disorders may appear similar, there is one distinct difference between ADHD and autism. The age-appropriate social reciprocity or back-and-forth interactions are missing with autism but are there with ADHD children.

People with ADHD may be seen as forgetful, unmotivated, or lazy as they struggle with short-term memory, follow-through, and an inability to sustain focus on non-preferred activities. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that limits how well a child can sustain their focus on non-preferred tasks and may also include impairments in controlling their impulses and hyperactivity.

Symptoms of autism are obviously visible in social situations: uneasy eye contact, difficulty engaging in back-and-forth conversations, and restricted interests may inhibit an autistic person’s social, academic, or work life. Autistic children may lack the imaginative skills necessary for play and social communication limiting their social development. It’s almost as if they’re in another country where people speak a foreign language that they don’t understand.

Whereas ASD is typically considered a lifetime diagnosis, some children do outgrow ADHD symptoms by adulthood, even more so when proper treatment is received.

If you are unsure whether your child has autism or ADHD we recommend seeing your pediatrician for an initial screening process.[vi] [vii] [viii]

Is it Possible to Have Both Autism & ADHD?

Yes, it is possible to have ADHD and autism. In fact, many patients with ASD also display signs of ADHD, making them common coexisting conditions. However, the reverse is not true: only about 25% of children with ADHD also exhibit symptoms of ASD. It’s also important to note that while it’s possible to have both, autism and ADHD are not the same disorder.

The potential to have both autism and ADHD is substantial because they are both neurodevelopmental disorders. One network or region of the brain that is dysregulated may affect the functioning of the entire brain.

ADHD and autism share other factors that make them more likely to co-occur. Both disorders may have genetic factors and may be influenced by complications in pregnancy or labor and delivery. Due to possible overlapping similarities between ADHD and autism, it is wise to rule out or identify the presence of either disorder.[ix] [x]

How The Drake Institute Treats Autism & ADHD

The Drake Institute uses advanced treatment technologies like brain map-guided neurofeedback, and neurostimulation to improve the symptoms of autism and ADHD. Treatments are non-drug and noninvasive, making them safe for children, teens, and adults. Moreover, these treatments address the underlying dysregulation of the brain linked to symptoms.

Brain Mapping

Brain mapping is the foundation for treatment at the Drake Institute. In this diagnostic phase, 19 sensors are placed around the patient's scalp in specific locations relating to different brain functions like focus, executive functioning, memory, language, social processing, emotional regulation, and more. These sensors record the activity occurring all over the brain to identify any areas or brain networks that are dysregulated linked to symptoms. Our Medical Director connects the QEEG brain map findings to what is happening with the patient to develop an effective and customized treatment protocol for each individual patient.


After brain mapping is completed, neurofeedback protocols are developed by our Medical Director and treatment is initiated to help reduce the symptoms of autism and ADHD. Our treatment protocols help improve brain regulation by guiding brain activity towards healthier, more functional patterns. In some patients, biomedical abnormalities may need to be addressed to maximize improvement from neurofeedback.


In addition to neurofeedback, we may also use neurostimulation guided by qEEG brain map findings to gently stimulate the brain to facilitate developing healthier more functional patterns. In our experience, neurostimulation may help some patients benefit even more from neurofeedback. We have found this to be particularly helpful for lower-functioning children on the Autism Spectrum and patients with treatment-resistant ADHD.

Contact The Drake Institute Today!

For information on how the Drake Institute can help patients with ASD or ADHD reduce their symptoms and achieve a better quality of life, call us at 1-800-700-4233 or fill out the free consultation form.













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“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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