ADHD or Autism?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Autism are often confused because children with either condition can have problems focusing. They can be impulsive or have a hard time communicating, or they may have trouble with schoolwork and relationships.

They share many of the same symptoms, but there are differences. Autistic individuals will have a series of related developmental disorders that can affect language skills, behaviour, social interactions, and learning. ADHD impacts the way the brain grows and develops. Unfortunately, some individuals are autistic with ADHD to boot.

As a parent of a child on the autistic spectrum and two others with ADHD, I know from experience that sometimes we just want to stick our heads in the sand with the hope that the problem would have disappeared by the time we come back up for air. Unfortunately, that is not helping you or the child. The sooner we start to intervene and change our strategies around the household, schoolwork, and social interactions, the sooner we will see positive outcomes.

Another crucial fact to remember is that the correct diagnosis early on helps children get the proper treatment early on in their developmental stages, ensuring that they don’t fall behind their peers. People with these conditions can have successful, happy lives. Remember that.

How Are They Different?

While I cannot stress enough how vital a proper early childhood diagnosis is, there most certainly are things that parents can do from their side to distinguish between the two. The first thing one does is to study the WAY that your child pays attention to something. Those with Autism struggle to focus on things that they don’t like, such as reading a book or doing a puzzle. They may fixate on things that they do like, such as playing with a particular toy, cars, airplanes. Children with ADHD dislike and avoid all things they’ll have to concentrate on.

The way your child communicates is also essential. Children with Autism usually struggle to interact and share with others and have a less social awareness of other people around them. They often have a hard time putting words into their thoughts and feelings, and they may not be able to point to an object to give meaning to their speech. They find it hard to make eye contact.

A child with ADHD, on the other hand, may talk nonstop. They’re more likely to interrupt when someone else is speaking or take over a conversation.

An autistic child loves order and repetition, but one with ADHD doesn’t, even if it helps them. A child with Autism might want the same type of food at a favourite restaurant or become overly attached to one toy or shirt. They’ll become upset when routines change. A child with ADHD doesn’t like doing the same thing repeatedly and dislikes doing the same thing for long periods.

There’s no one-size-fits-all way to deal with ADHD. Younger children start with behaviour therapy, and the doctor may prescribe medication if symptoms don’t improve enough. Older children will usually get both. ADHD symptoms, and their treatment, may change over time.

There are so many kinds of therapy – behaviour, speech, sensory integration, occupational therapy – you have heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child; well the same applies here. There is no miracle pill or therapy that can cure either ADHD or AUTISM. The critical fact is that a team can make a world of difference. The COACH in this team needs to be the PARENT – you need to educate yourself with whatever challenge your child has, then get some teammates; teachers, other professionals, family, friends. The STAR of the team is your CHILD. Educate him or her precisely on what is going on and why there suddenly is a team of people invested in their success. They need to understand that if we want to manage the challenges, we need their buy-in. Our job as parents is to make sure that this happens. Please be cautious of the fact that you are still the parent and you are the decision-maker. The child does not have a choice here, but we need to structure the process to make them think they are making some significant decisions.

Often, I see parents talking about their children while they are right there, part of the conversation, and often, the dialogue is negative and focused on things they cannot do. Please don’t do that. Our children understand more than what we give them credit for, and they most certainly don’t need negative input from a teammate. Our autistic son believes that he is the most extraordinary human being in the world, simply because we never talked about his shortcomings when he was around.

Our message is to all parents is to stay positive, educate yourself and structure a plan or roadmap for your family. Love your children for who and what they are.

Karin Visser

Biolink Attention Training