Although there are some similarities between ADHD and autism, they are two separate conditions with distinct diagnostic criteria.
ADHD is characterized by core symptoms of inattention, and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity, while autism is characterized by social communication deficits, repetitive behaviors, restricted interests, and rigidity. However, because many individuals with autism also have symptoms of ADHD, healthcare providers may evaluate for both conditions during a comprehensive evaluation.
Is ADHD related to autism? The two conditions do indeed have some similarities, but ADHD is not a form of autism. [i]
For decades, the Drake Institute has used advanced treatment technologies to create customized treatment protocols for patients with autism, ADHD, and other brain-based conditions. Brain map-guided neurofeedback and neurostimulation help our ASD and ADHD patients reduce their symptoms and lead better lives.
ADHD, or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects both children and adults. Individuals with ADHD struggle to sustain attention and some also have difficulty controlling impulses and may exhibit hyperactivity. These symptoms can lead to problems in school, at work, and in other social settings.
The exact causes of ADHD are not yet fully understood, but research suggests that genetics, environmental factors, and complications during pregnancy, labor and delivery may play a role. Studies have shown that individuals with ADHD can have differences in brain functioning, particularly in areas related to attention, executive functioning, inhibition, and reward processing. Environmental factors, such as prenatal exposure to alcohol or tobacco, premature birth, and low birth weight, have also been linked to an increased risk of developing ADHD.
There is no known cure for ADHD, but with proper treatment, individuals with ADHD can improve their attention, reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity, and develop successful lives.
Three subtypes of ADHD indicate different patterns of symptoms and behaviors exhibited by individuals. [ii]
Predominantly Inattentive Presentation, also known as ADHD-PI, is a subtype where individuals primarily struggle with inattention. They may not display hyperactive or impulsive behaviors commonly associated with ADHD. They may have difficulty paying attention to details, become easily distracted, and have trouble following through on tasks.
Other symptoms of ADHD-PI can include forgetfulness, losing things, struggling to listen or follow directions, and being disorganized. These symptoms can significantly impact academic and occupational performance, as well as social relationships. While the symptoms of ADHD-PI may not be as disruptive as the other subtypes, they can still be quite impairing and require treatment.[iii]
Because individuals with ADHD-PI do not normally show disruptive behavior, they may not be identified or diagnosed as early as kids that are hyperactive and impulsive. Some children with ADHD of the inattentive type may not have difficulty in school until they reach middle school, where lack of executive functioning becomes a major disadvantage when you have multiple teachers.
Individuals with ADHD-HI primarily struggle with hyperactivity and impulsivity. They may have difficulty sitting still or waiting their turn. They may constantly interrupt others while in conversation. They can have difficulty sustaining friendships with peers because they may unintentionally come off as bossy or controlling, which turns other kids off.
Combined Presentation, also known as ADHD-C, involves symptoms of both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. Individuals with ADHD-C may be easily distracted or forgetful and may need help to sustain attention or follow instructions. They may also fidget or squirm, talk excessively, interrupt others, and struggle with waiting their turn. The combination of symptoms can significantly impact academic, social, and career success.
It's important to note that the symptoms of ADHD-C can vary widely between individuals, and treatment needs to be tailored to each person's specific needs. [iv]
Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that ranges from mild to severe and includes repetitive behaviors, impaired social communication, restricted interests, and rigidity.
It is a spectrum disorder, which affects individuals to varying degrees, and no two individuals with ASD will have the same severity of symptoms and same requirements for support.
The exact cause of autism is not yet fully understood, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some research suggests that certain genes may contribute to the development of autism, while environmental factors, such as prenatal exposure to toxins, may also play a role.
Individuals with autism may require varying levels of support, depending on the severity of their symptoms. Some individuals with ASD may require significant support with daily living skills, such as personal hygiene, dressing, and overall self-care. Others may require less support but may still struggle with social communication, sensory processing, and behavior regulation.
When autism was recategorized in 2013 as autism spectrum disorder, three levels were created to indicate the level of support needed by the autistic individual. These levels are: [v]
Level 1 indicates that individuals require support to function in their daily life. They may have difficulties with social interaction and communication, but they might still be able to function unassisted in some areas.
Level 2 indicates the need for more support. There may be significant impairments in social interactions, sensory processing, or behavior regulation. Assistance with daily living skills and self-care may be required, along with support in managing emotions and behavior.
This final level indicates that individuals require substantial support to maintain their daily lives. With severe difficulties in social communication and repetitive or restrictive behaviors and interests, they may be unable to live independently. However, even Level 3 symptoms can be managed and improved over time with proper intervention and treatment.
While autism is a spectrum disorder with a wide variety of symptoms and severity, ADHD does not fall under autism. [vi]
ADHD is similar to ASD in that both are neurodevelopmental disorders that can have overlapping symptoms. Although ASD is their primary diagnosis, it’s not uncommon for ASD children to have symptoms of ADHD as well.
While the causes of both ADHD and autism can be multi-factorial, research continues. However, they are both associated with brain dysregulation. Depending on the patient, this dysregulation can occur in regions involved with attention, emotional and behavioral control, and social communication. Some children with ADHD though, may only have inattentive symptoms and no behavioral nor social communication problems.
Though ASD and ADHD are two different neurodevelopmental disorders, there are some overlapping symptoms. These may include:
Finally, there are no known cures for either condition. It is important to note, however, that symptoms of both disorders can be improved with proper diagnosis and treatment.
So, is ADHD autism? No. Even though they may share some similar symptoms, they are two distinct diagnoses. [vii]
While there are similarities between ADHD and autism, they are two distinct disorders with different diagnostic criteria, symptoms, and different findings on a qEEG brain map.
While individuals with ADHD may struggle with communication, they can have an expressive language deficit that is not part of an autism spectrum disorder. Autistic individuals can struggle with social communication due to difficulties processing nonverbal social cues, facial expressions, and others emotions. They can be impaired with understanding what is appropriate or inappropriate in social behavior. Reciprocal conversations are non-existent or can be limited in autistic patients.
Another difference between ADHD and autism is the presence of repetitive or restrictive behaviors, which can be a core feature of autism spectrum disorder. Individuals with autism may exhibit highly repetitive or ritualistic behaviors, such as hand-flapping or lining up objects, and may have noticeable difficulty with changes in routine or transitions. Children with ADHD may have difficulty at times with changes in routine or transition, but it is not as severe or disruptive as it is in ASD. [viii]
ADHD is not a type of autism, but it is possible for individuals to have both ADHD and autism. In fact, research suggests that there is a high rate of comorbidity between the two conditions, with estimates ranging from 50-70%. The co-occurrence of ADHD and autism can make diagnosis and treatment more complex, as the symptoms and underlying mechanisms of each condition may overlap and interact.
For example, individuals with both ADHD and autism may exhibit more severe impairments in executive functioning and may have difficulty with both social communication and attentional regulation.
Having both ADHD and autism typically means that an individual will have more impairments and require more comprehensive treatment. Though many children with ASD will have symptoms of ADHD, most children with ADHD do not have symptoms of ASD.[ix]
Research suggests that a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurobiological factors may contribute to the development of these conditions.
In some individuals with ADHD, genetic factors are believed to play a significant role in the disorder. However, genetics alone may not fully explain the development of ADHD, and research suggests that environmental factors such as prenatal exposure to tobacco or alcohol, premature birth, low birth weight, and early childhood adversity may also increase the risk of developing the disorder.
Similarly, in the case of autism, there is evidence to suggest that genetic factors can play a significant role in the disorder. However, like ADHD, environmental factors may also play a role in the development of autism, and prenatal exposure to certain chemicals, infection during pregnancy, and advanced parental age have been associated with an increased risk of developing the disorder.
ADHD and autism are both diagnosed through a comprehensive evaluation that involves gathering information from multiple sources that can include parents, caregivers, and teachers.
A comprehensive evaluation helps clinicians develop a diagnosis and create an individualized treatment plan that addresses the individual's unique needs and deficits.
To diagnose ADHD, clinicians use the diagnostic guidelines outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
These criteria include persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that are present in multiple settings, such as home and school, and that cause academic concerns and/or in some cases emotional, behavioral problems.
Observations or reports of the child at both home and school are important in diagnosing ADHD. Screening for attention, impulsivity or hyperactivity issues at school, home, and elsewhere will help identify if ADHD is a possibility. [x]
Diagnosing autism typically involves a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare provider who can assess for developmental disorders.[xi]
The evaluation may include assessments of deficits in social communication, repetitive behaviors and rigidity, sensory processing symptoms, and cognitive impairment. [xii]
As with autism, observations by parents, teachers, and others who interact with the child regularly can contribute to the child’s assessment. [xiii]
Autism is typically considered a lifelong condition; however, the severity of symptoms may vary over time. [xiv] Some patients with childhood ADHD may outgrow the disorder, but many children with ADHD will still have symptoms and impairment in their adult life.
Every individual with ADHD or autism is unique, and the symptoms and trajectory of these disorders can vary widely from person to person. Some individuals may experience significant improvements in their symptoms over time, while others may continue to experience significant challenges and impairments throughout their lives.
Early diagnosis and intervention can play an important role for individuals with ADHD or autism, with treatment improving clinical outcomes and quality of life. [xv]
At present, there is no known cure for either ADHD or autism.
That said, it is possible to help individuals with one or both disorders successfully achieve symptom reduction.
For over 40 years, the Drake Institute has pioneered the use of advanced treatment technologies to treat a variety of brain-based medical conditions such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, PTSD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and more. Using a combination of brain map-guided neurofeedback and neurostimulation, our Medical Director creates customized treatment protocols to address each patient's needs.
Before beginning treatment, a qEEG brain map of the patient is recorded and analyzed.
Brain mapping makes it possible to identify which specific areas of the brain are experiencing dysregulation linked to symptoms. 19 total sensors are placed around the scalp in areas of the brain responsible for language, social/emotional understanding, focus, memory, executive functioning, and behavioral/emotional regulation.
The 19 sensors measure and record brainwave activity that is processed through a normative database of neurotypical individuals.
During neurofeedback training, sensors are once again placed on the scalp. The sensors record brainwave activity that is then displayed visually in real-time on a computer screen with auditory feedback as well. When the brain can see the results of what it is doing, it can then change and modify its activity to more preferable functional patterns.
No drugs are administered, and there are no invasive procedures involved. Instead, the patient is improving their own brain functioning, guided by visual and auditory feedback, which is telling the brain when it’s working in a healthier, more functional pattern.
As an adjunct to neurofeedback, we may also use neurostimulation guided by qEEG brain map findings to gently stimulate the brain into healthier more optimal patterns. In our experience, some patients may benefit even more from neurofeedback if we also use neurostimulation. We have found this particularly helpful for lower-functioning children on the Autism Spectrum.
Drake has helped thousands of patients with various disorders such as autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, migraine headaches, and hypertension reduce their symptoms and thereby achieve a better quality of life. Call us at 1-800-700-4233 or fill out the free consultation form to get started.
If you or a family member need help, please fill out our confidential online form
Interview with Dr. David Velkoff
Interview with Dr. David Velkoff
Spanish News Feature
“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.”