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An introduction to AuDHD

Published: March 8, 2024
Last updated on April 8, 2024

If you’re new to AuDHD, this article answers frequently asked questions about the common co-occurrence of autism and ADHD. As an introductory post, we also highlight further articles and resources throughout to guide your discovery of topics related to AuDHD.


What is AuDHD?

AuDHD is an unofficial but popular term used to describe individuals who are both autistic and ADHD. This means that an AuDHDer has been self/formally diagnosed with autism and ADHD because they have traits characteristic of both conditions.

For the autistics among us who are unfamiliar with ADHD, we are referring to individuals who have attentional differences. The diagnostic criteria conceptualize ADHD as an attentional deficit. However, ADHDers are perhaps better described as having a form of hyper-attention. ADHDers experience all stimuli at once and these stimuli all fight for our attention, making it difficult to attend to any one thing. The exception is when we are absorbed in something interesting. In this case, ADHDers experience hyperfocus just like autistics do.[1]Living “in the zone”: hyperfocus in adult ADHD (Hupfled et al., 2019) Therefore, if you previously thought that you couldn’t have ADHD because you can hyperfocus, we’ve got news for you, you may still be AuDHD!


How common is AuDHD?

Research shows that up to 80% of autistics also have ADHD.[2]The comorbidity of ADHD in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders (Stevens et al., 2016)[3]Identifying comorbid ADHD in autism: Attending to the inattentive presentation. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders (Rau et al., 2020) Despite being so high, this degree of overlap is not widely known. This is primarily because before the publication of the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) in 2013, there was a rule that individuals couldn’t be diagnosed with both autism and ADHD. The decision to exclude co-diagnoses has had a ripple effect:

  • Research before 2013 only studied autism and ADHD in isolation. This means that studies on autistic individuals may be skewed by the fact that many (potentially up to 80%!) of study participants could have also had ADHD without knowing. How confident can we be in older autism research?
  • Individuals who received a formal diagnosis prior to the year 2013 may only have one diagnosis even though they fit the diagnostic criteria for both. Are there a whole bunch of autistics and ADHDers who are missing out on potential supports and understanding because of a missed diagnosis?
  • Many AuDHDers are invalidated because they do not fall into the stereotypical presentations of either autism or ADHD.

On the plus side, now that we know that autism and ADHD commonly co-occur, more recent research is being conducted with this in mind. Additionally, we are becoming more and more aware of the different ways that individuals experience AuDHD and how that differs from ADHD and autism alone.


Is AuDHD an official diagnosis?

It is not. AuDHD is a colloquial term, but it does not exist as an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5 (DSM-5). This means that an AuDHDer who has a formal diagnosis will have documents listing both conditions separately; it will likely say that they have ADHD and autism.


How can I tell if I’m AuDHD?

I am autistic, but I think I may actually be AuDHD. How can I tell?

If you are autistic but you relate to some ADHD traits, it may be worth looking to see if you are AuDHD! You can try completing some psychometric tests, like the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale, but keep in mind that it was developed to pick up ADHD in non-autistic individuals. Since there are overlaps in autistic and ADHD experiences, they may not be accurate for your particular lived experience.

This is why we believe that it is important to look at the underlying reasons why a person answers assessment questions the way that they do. A good clinician will consider this when conducting a formal diagnosis. If you’d like to learn more about what this means, check out the article below which explains how an AuDHDer and an autistic person differ when they fill out psychometric tests.

Autism & ADHD—how do we differentiate similar traits?

How do autism, ADHD, & AuDHD compare?

If you’d like to learn more about the specific diagnostic differences between ADHD and autistic traits and how these traits may look in combination, we’ve written a whole article about it! The article below covers the distinct diagnostic criteria for each condition and how they compare to AuDHD.

Autistic & ADHD traits

But the table below gives a general overview of the traits and challenges belonging to each condition.

AutismADHDAuDHD
Differences in social-emotional reciprocityDoes not seem to listen when spoken to directlyDifferences in social-emotional reciprocity & mind seemingly elsewhere during communication
Differences in non-verbal communicationDifferences in non-verbal communication
HyperfocusDifficulty sustaining attention (actually: hyper-attention)Hyperfocus, but also hyper-attention
Differences in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationshipsDifferences in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships
Repetitive patterns of behaviors (stimming, sameness, special interests)Avoids/dislikes tasks requiring sustained mental effortFinds special interests soothing, but has a need to alternate between interests
Routine-driven & consistentImpulsive & need for noveltyRoutines offer comfort and guidance, but with a need to change tasks at any point
Meticulous plannerExhibits poor organizationA drive to plan and organize, but difficulty following through due to overwhelm
Attention to detailMakes careless mistakes/lacks attention to detailAttention to detail, yet also prone to mistakes
Sensory sensitivitiesSensory sensitivities, but also a need for stimulationMore severe sensory sensitivities (often including light sensitivity), but also a need for stimulation
Can experience challenges in daily functioningForgetful in daily activities & loses things necessary for tasks/activitiesChallenges in daily functioning & forgetful in daily activities
Fails to follow through on tasks and instructionsFails to follow through on tasks and instructions
Analytical & preciseLateral thinker, associative thoughts, generates many ideasAnalytical, precise & lateral thinker, associative thoughts, idea generator

What is the relevance of the AuDHD label?

Why is it important to acknowledge the AuDHD experience
separately from ADHD and autism alone?

Most research looks at ADHD and autism separately. This means that AuDHDers are often left wondering how the findings apply to our experiences. This is particularly important given that more recent research, which does consider the AuDHD experience, finds that AuDHDers may have different support needs.

Additionally, supports that work for someone with ADHD or autism alone, may not be as effective for AuDHDers. One example that we covered in a recent article (see below) is how AuDHDers differ from ADHDers in their response to stimulant medication. If we only look at these conditions separately, we may be missing out on understanding our lived experiences better and accessing supports that fit our diverse needs.

AuDHD & stimulant medication

Does being AuDHD make me “less autistic” or “less ADHD”?

Not at all! You are either autistic or you’re not. You are either ADHD or you’re not. Being an AuDHDer and having both autistic and ADHD traits does not take away from these experiences. What it means, however, is that your experiences as a whole likely differ or diverge from someone who is only autistic or only ADHD.

Each condition encompasses an array of different traits, which are experienced in different combinations and with differing intensities by each unique individual. As an AuDHDer, this just means that your combination and intensity of different traits include those associated with both autism and ADHD instead of only one or the other.


How can contradictory aspects of autism & ADHD co-occur?

Autistic and ADHD traits sometimes contradict each other. How can they co-exist in AuDHD?

Some autistic traits seem the complete opposite of an ADHD trait. For instance, autistics often value routine, repetition, and structure. In contrast, ADHDers usually opt for spontaneity, flexibility, and trying new experiences. These contradictions can indeed make life challenging for AuDHDers. Research even shows that AuDHDers experience more mental health challenges and executive functioning struggles than autistics.[4]Lifetime co-occurring psychiatric disorders in newly diagnosed adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or/and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (Pehlivanidis et al., 2020)[5]Cognitive, social, and behavioral manifestations of the co-occurrence of autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A systematic review (Rosello et al., 2021) We explore these contradictions in more detail the article below.

Autistic & ADHD traits

If you have any AuDHD questions, please leave them in the comments below!
We will try and update the AuDHD FAQ periodically.

References

This article
was written by:
debra-bercovici

Dr. Debra Bercovici PhD is an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream at the University of Toronto. She has a B.Sc. in Psychology from McGill University, and a Ph.D. in Behavioural Neuroscience from the University of British Columbia. She was formally diagnosed with autism at 28.

Disclaimer

Although our content is generally well-researched
and substantiated, or based on personal experience,
note that it does not constitute medical advice.

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