Autism vs ADHD (The Difference between ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder)

  • Autism versus ADHD,

what are the similarities and differences

between autism and ADHD?

In today’s Patreon’s Choice Article,

I will be throwing some

random information at you

because that is the way

that my morning has gone at the moment,

I’ve basically canceled

everything else I’ve got today,

because I have energy for this Article

and you are going to see

what a little bit of how my mind works

around trying to explain some concepts

(ball thuds) and what I need

to keep myself on track.

You’ll notice I’m speaking a bit quickly,

it’s because if I stop speaking,

I’ll probably forget what I’m saying.

Back on track, what was I saying?

So autism and ADHD,

there’s a lot of similarities

between autism and ADHD.

They’re one of the most

misdiagnosed, as in getting one,

misdiagnosing one when it

should have been the other

and also commonly occurring conditions

where someone actually has

autism and ADHD at the same time.

So clearly,

there’s a lot of overlap

but there are also

some very significant differences as well.

So I’ll be going through

some of that today

in as structured way as I can

given the state this morning.

So these notes are for me,

don’t worry too much

if you can’t read them.

I just needed to write it out

before I forget essentially.

So my name is Paul, I am from

Asperger’s from the Inside,

you may have seen the channel.

I discovered I was on the

spectrum about five years ago now.

So I definitely have Asperger’s,

definitely do not have ADHD.

You might have seen my Article yesterday

where I took the ADHD test.

So I’ll be speaking from my

own experience about autism,

but I do not have ADHD.

In fact, as you’ll see later,

some of my characteristics

are the complete opposite of ADHD.

So I’ve done my best to use

the language and analogies

that I’ve heard other people

with ADHD actually use,

but if you wanna get to know

more about autism or ADHD

or anything else for that matter,

my number one piece of advice is,

go out and meet not just one person,

but many people with the condition

and let them tell you what

it actually means for them.

However, if you’re after resources,

I’ve got a Article explaining autism.

And my personal favorite

explanation of ADHD

is from Jess from How to ADHD,

and it’s called the motivation bridge.

And it was the most helpful

Article that I’ve seen so far

that helped me understand

what ADHD actually is,

and why stimulant

medication actually works.

So that was a really good one.

Okay, I should have probably,

you’re probably not even watching anymore.

Okay, that’s okay.

Let’s keep going.

So, the first thing to

know is that the name ADHD,

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

is probably the worst named thing

in the entire medical profession.

Attention, great,

yes, it has something

to do with attention.

Deficit, yeah, no, not always.

Hyperactive, no, not always.

Disorder, arguable, right?

So the best way to understand ADHD

is it’s around attention,

has very specifically to do

with attention and regulation,

whereas understanding autism,

it’s a difference that can be

in many, many, many different areas,

attention being one of those areas.

So how are they both the same,

they are both a

neurodevelopmental condition,

meaning it’s something to do

with how our brains develop,

our brains develop differently.

However, we both have issues

regulating behavior and emotions,

which results in social issues

and especially feeling misunderstood,

having our behavior misunderstood,

and getting labels like lazy

or people thinking that we

don’t care or that we’re weird,

and being told off

for things that we don’t actually control.

So there’s a lot of unhelpful stereotypes

about both autism and ADHD.

And one of them is that it

affects young boys only, right?

So, adults surprisingly enough,

still have autism, still have ADHD.

And also, a lot of girls and women

tend to fly under the radar as well,

and being underdiagnosed,

because it’s not so well known,

and it’s not as easy to

pick up in girls and women.

So, one thing that puts us all together

is that being normal is difficult.

Our natural way of being

is to do things in a certain way

and to conform that to society

and what we’re expected to do

is often really challenging

slash impossible,

and we’ll get to that a

little bit more later.

Something else that we can all agree on

is that you cannot be

a little bit autistic

any more than you can

have a little bit of ADHD.

All of the behaviors

that I’m going to be

talking about in this Article ,

they’re all human behaviors,

we all do them from time to time, right?

Have you ever lost your keys?

Have you ever not felt like socializing?

Have you ever been

overwhelmed by a situation

or stressed out by something?

Of course you have, they

are all human behaviors.

And for most people

that’s not a big problem.

So how to understand autism and ADHD,

it’s less of an a thing itself,

like this is autism or this is ADHD,

and it’s more a deviation

from the average neurotypical person.

So let’s say if you have a

neurotypical person, right?

They will find something’s

easy and something’s difficult.

So let’s take a really

simple example, right?

I’ll use children because

it’s an easy thing

that we can all relate to, right?

As a kid running around

playing with your friends is

fun and easy and exciting,

sitting still at a desk doing

homework is less stimulating,

less interesting and harder

to do and less fun usually.

So if that’s the case for

every kid or virtually,

then for ADHD, those impulses

are exaggerated, right?

There is no middle ground,

it’s either nothing or everything.

So, running around

playing with your friends

is really exciting and really

fun and really stimulating,

and it can be hard to stop

doing that because it’s so fun.

And at the same time,

sitting still looking at a piece of paper,

without the mental stimulation

is really boring, really hard

to the point where it might

physically be impossible

to force yourself to do that, right?

So one way of thinking about ADHD

is that if you’ve got

a neurotypical child,

then all of the impulses are exaggerated

and the ability to

control them is reduced.

Now, again, massive oversimplification,

I hope I haven’t offended anyone,

I’m just trying to be

giving a sense, right?

So how does autism differ from

the neurotypical population?

Well, with autism all bets are off

anything is possible.

You might have a kid who

doesn’t like going outside

and running around and

playing with their friends.

Some people don’t like

moving very much at all,

and would much prefer, you

know, really firm pressure

and to sit there and not

actually have to move.

Because movement is not

a very fun thing to do.

Other kids will really love

just spinning and spinning

and spinning and spinning

’cause they never get dizzy.

Or maybe this particular kid

loves doing their homework.

All they wanna do is sit down and read

and do maths questions and no,

they don’t wanna talk to you

and no, they don’t wanna play.

Anything is possible with autism.

So, in summary,

you’ve got neurotypical,

you’ve got ADHD,

where all of the normal impulses

are souped up out of control.

And then you’ve got autism

where absolutely all bets are

off and anything is possible.

So this means that we tend

some of the things that we

struggle with are the same,

but a lot of the things

that we struggle with are quite different.

So again, when we’re talking about ADHD,

it’s predominantly around

attention and regulation

and impulse control and things like that.

One of the biggest differences

is that ADHD has a medical,

like physiological background

that we know what is actually happening.

It’s something to do with

low dopamine in the brain

or something like that.

Which means that you can actually,

there is medication that helps

regulate ADHD and regulate attention.

Another thing with ADHD

and this is something I picked up

from watching Jess’

Articles from How to ADHD,

is that a lot of the time,

the internal dialogue is,

“I know what I wanna do,

“I know what I need to do,

“I just can’t do it.

“There’s a huge thing over there,

“It’s really hard,

“I really want it,

“but I can’t do it

“because I just can’t give

myself the motivation,

“I know it’s important,

“I just can’t do it.”

Autism can be significantly

different to that.

Very often we’re confused

and don’t know what we’re

supposed to be doing

in a social situation, for example.

Autism is characterized by anxiety

and a lot of the things that we do

are centered around trying to feel better

in an unsafe world, in a hostile world

and we just wanna run away

and make it feel better.

So a lot of autistic people

have a huge ability to mask,

even young children have

the ability to go to school

and do everything they

need to do at school

and then they’ll come

home and they will crash,

they will have a meltdown or a shutdown,

or just have no energy and crash,

because they’ve used up

all of their energy trying to be normal,

and then they’ve got no

energy at the end of the day.

In contrast,

ADHD is more characterized

by an inability to do those things

that you know you’re expected to do.

Now, be very careful here,

do not think that one is

better than the other.

One is, if you can’t do something

that someone is expecting

you to do, right?

Then you might fail more publicly,

but if you have to mask it all the time,

then that is a crushing

internal experience,

and eventually you will no longer be able

to take it anymore.

And eventually that mask will fall off

and then you’ll fail in a

much more spectacular way.

So very similar challenges

due to being wired differently

and having different

things that motivate us.

So one of the reasons that

I’m doing this Article today

is because I started

thinking about it yesterday.

So I’ve started writing

out what I’m gonna do,

and I’ve started thinking about it,

and I’m getting really good ideas,

and I’m getting on a roll.

And so I went to sleep.

And I woke up early this morning,

and my brain was still on that same thing.

So for me,

what autism looks like

is when I’m on something,

when I’m in the zone for something,

it’s really difficult to

change and do something else.

And at the same time,

it’s really easy to keep

doing the same thing

that I’m doing, to maintain

a long focused attention

on one tiny little task

and just keep going and

keep going and keep going

until it’s done.

So this is another way to understand

a potential difference

between autism and ADHD.

And that is around

under and overregulation of our attention.

So if a neurotypical brain, right?

Has the ability to

regulate their attention

somewhere in the middle, right?

I have the ability to concentrate,

I have the ability to just let it go.

ADHD is characterized by underregulation,

difficulty regulating attention.

Whereas autism for me

is characterized by overregulation,

every bit of my attention is

heavily regulated by my brain,

you could say that my

inhibitions are huge,

it’s really hard for me to

get in the spirit of things,

to go with the flow,

to pick up of the emotions of the room

and actually, you know,

go with other people,

because it takes me a

lot longer to do that,

and I’ve actually got a Article

on what I call emotional damping,

where I still feel the same things

but it just takes longer

for the feelings to kind of take over.

So this for me means

I have an absolutely huge

starting inertia, right?

To start a task

is a huge amount of

energy to start a task.

To continue with a task is really easy.

An analogy might be trying to power

a freight train up a really steep hill,

getting there is hard

but once you’re over the top and going,

once you’ve got the momentum going,

the easiest thing to do

is to just keep going.

Whereas ADHD what I’ve

noticed from my friends

is that a lot of people

have a very, very low instigation energy,

“Oh look, I’ve got an idea.

“I’m already doing it.

“Oh I’ve already finished it,

“I’m already back,

“I’m already thinking something

else, I’m already back.”

And me I’m sitting here

going, “Whoa, whoa, whoa,

“I can’t keep up.

“I’m doing one thing

“and if I’m gonna switch to another idea,

“that is a huge amount of energy for me.

“I just can’t switch

between those two tasks.”

Now interestingly,

ADHD is also characterized,

well not characterized,

but something that can happen

with ADHD is hyperfocus

in a similar way that

autism can have hyperfocus.

But in the ADHD case,

it’s less of a hyperfocus

and more of a hyperdistraction,


I’m being constantly

stimulated by this thing,

and therefore I’m stuck on it,

like Article games or something.

Whereas with autism,

because my regulation is so

controlled, so overregulated,

I can focus my attention on something

and block out the rest of the world,

so that I am doing just this one thing,

and I just do not notice anything else.

So you can see that

there’s a bit of a

subtle difference there.

Now, here’s the absolute clincher

that makes it so confusing

as to whether it’s autism or ADHD or both.

So I mentioned that neurotypical

can regulate their attention,

ADHD has trouble

regulating their attention

and my version of autism

is an overregulation.


this end of the attention

regulation curve,

can be autism as well.

Autism does not care which

side of normal you fall.

Autism is characterized by too much

or too little of a huge variety of things.

So that might be I talk too

much, or I talk too little,

or I feel too much, or I feel too little

or I’m too sensitive, or

I’m too undersensitive,

or I’m too intelligent, or I’m

too not intelligent, right?

All of those things are autism.

So to give you an example,

if a child is four years

old and not talking

evidence for autism,

click, right?

Language delay.

If a child is 18-months-old,

and he’s going to their parents going,

“Daddy, why are the other

kids not talking to me?”

And you have to try and

explain to an 18-month-year-old

that your peers can’t talk yet,

that’s why they’re not

talking to you, right?

That’s a significant social thing

that makes it difficult

to relate to your peers

if you’re not on the same level,

either too far ahead or too far behind.

So, autism can be overregulation,

autism can also be underregulation,

the same as ADHD.

Now, depending on the degree

of this underregulation,

or how and why it occurs

will depend if you meet

the diagnostic criteria for ADHD or not.

And I’ll come back to that

in some examples of memory

and executive function.

So, let’s take some examples, right?

So let’s take small talk.

So it’s possible that someone

with autism and or ADHD

might have difficulty with small talk.

“It’s boring,

“why do I do this?”

However, for ADHD it’s

going to be more like,

“This conversation is not

stimulating enough for me,

“I’m really trying to pay

attention, but it’s so boring,

“I just can’t keep listening to you,

“can we please talk about

something interesting?

“Because otherwise,

“I just will not physically be able

“to keep my attention on this,

“I need more stimulation.”

Whereas for someone on the autism spectrum

it’s more likely to be something like,

“What is the purpose of small talk?

“I have no idea what small talk is,

“I have no idea why you’re even

trying to small talk to me.

“This whole situation is confusing.

“Can we please just talk

about something else

“that’s interesting?

“Surely that would be better

for everyone concerned.”

So you can see

that there’s a bit of a lack of acceptance

and understanding of the

social norms with the autism,

whereas with the ADHD,

the similar behavior is more driven

by the need for stimulation,

even if the social norms are understood.

So another example,

what about someone who talks too much.

Have you ever met someone

who gets really interested in something

and just keeps talking at you

and does not require

any feedback from you?


So, again, for autism this could be

because of a lack of recognition

of social cues, right?

I’m talking at you,

and I think you’re interested

when you’re not actually interested.

Or maybe I get so focused

on what I’m talking about,

’cause it’s so interesting

that I don’t notice that

you’re trying to leave

and I’m suddenly following you,

and it’s a little bit creepy.

Whereas again,

on the ADHD side,

think about the motivation being attention

and the need for stimulation.

So if I’m talking about,

ADHD talking about something,

and it’s really interesting

and stimulating to talk about it,

it’s easy to keep talking

and again in a very similar way,

not notice what else is going on.

Similar thing.

So executive function is another thing

that can be a challenge (ball thuds)

for both autism an ADHD?

But again,

what’s happening behind the scenes

might look very different.

So if you get distracted

and forget about what

you’re supposed to be doing,

because something else has

grabbed your attention,

well, that’s an attention thing,

and that could potentially be ADHD.

Whereas, if the reason that I forget

is because I don’t have a

reminder and nothing prompts me,

then it’s not so much that

something took my attention away,

it’s that there was no

reminder to make me think,

I’m sitting here thinking,

is there anything else I need to do?

And I come up with nothing,

because I didn’t have the right prompt.

So that’s why things like visual schedules

often work with autistic people.

It might actually be

that it’s the format of the

information that’s the issue

and it’s not actually an

impulse or attention problem.

Do you have a bad memory?

Are you forgetful?

Or is it just the way that

information is presented to you?

For me, for example,

I’m a pattern thinker,

which means I need to have

a piece of information

in context with everything else,

and then I’ll remember it forever.