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Aspergers vs. Autism vs. ADHD

Autism and Asperger’s vs. ADHD

The journey of a family with a special needs kid is always a challenging one that can be overcome with teamwork and taking the bull by the horns. 

When a kid is clinically diagnosed with Attention Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD) (or had a past diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome), parents may have a lot running through their minds. Even with all their worry, this diagnosis may come with some positives. 

First, it affirms some of the things that your child has been experiencing and gives you a way to understand them. The right diagnosis gives you some clarity about the issue at hand and helps you understand the science behind the symptoms.

Secondly, as a diagnosis answers some of your questions, it also opens more questions. It may resolve some of your “Why's.” But it paves the way for some “How's” and “What's.”

“My child has ADHD, what do I do now?”

“My child has Asperger's, will he be like his classmate with ADHD?”

“What can we do to improve his grades?”

“How can I help her organize things?”

“What is the best way for him to get along with other kids?”

JJ's Story

Little JJ was an odd fifth-grader who wanted to make friends.

Like a social butterfly, he would flutter from circle to circle. And they would welcome him, but he would lose interest and move on. 

While JJ was growing up, his parents observed a lot of weird fixations that bothered them. He would stare at kids and collect fingernails. His parents would tell him to stop, but he acts as if he can't hear them. He seems manipulative and does odd things on purpose. And his parents have a hard time controlling him. 

While people in his school agreed that JJ struggled with behavior, they did not think he had autism because he was showing efforts to interact socially. His parents thought otherwise. They didn't think JJ was getting the help he needed, and they became Google MDs.

They came across ADHD symptoms and thought JJ had the condition because he exhibited social difficulties and ignored instructions. Finally, his parents visited Dr. Roseann’s Clinic, and JJ underwent some tests and behavioral observations.

It was revealed that JJ's inattention and social impairment were due to his lack of flexibility and social skills. JJ was incapable of back-and-forth social interaction and misperceived social interactions. When he wanted to talk about Captain America, he would keep on talking about Captain America, even if the group's conversation had shifted to music or food. 

Moreover, JJ said what was on his mind, and he can be brutally honest. It wasn't always appropriate. He couldn’t sense other people's emotions or put himself in their shoes. He couldn’t relate and build deeper connections. 

Finally, while his parents thought JJ was simply inattention,  JJ's problem was actually his fixation on topics and activities. When he was engaged in something he liked, it was difficult to stop him. 

I explained to JJ's parents that JJ had autism, not ADHD. In fact, JJ's symptoms were consistent with Asperger's Syndrome, a type of autism that used to be recognized in the US but still is in other countries. 

It's true that kids with ADHD and Autism (including Asperger's) have social impairment and inattentiveness, but they look different, and there are different causes behind the outward behavioral symptoms. 

ADHD kids seek to socialize but can't stay engaged because of impulsiveness and hyperactivity. They know how to interact but it is often their impulsivity that gets in the way of their interactions. 

Socially, kids with autism may or may not want to socialize. But in JJ's case, he was interested in playing with other kids but did not understand social rules and non-verbal cues. When he wanted to talk about something, he kept on talking about it even if the other kids were not interested. 

Kids with ADHD may need a different kind of support from kids with ASD and that was exactly why JJ needed the right diagnosis. He wasn’t getting the right help at school despite an IEP. He was stagnating until he got help for autism.

Similarities and Differences in Autism and ADHD

There are subtle differences between kids with Autism (and Asperger’s) and kids with ADHD, including repetitive hand movements that are unique to kids on the spectrum. 

There are a few key similarities between Autism and ADHD, such as social difficulties and impulsiveness. Additionally, it's common for people to have both conditions. As much as 50-70% of children with Asperger's also have ADHD. 

However, these two entirely different conditions should not be confused as several key differences exist between them. Understanding these differences is essential to ensure your child receives the right diagnosis and treatment.

Similar Symptoms in Autism and ADHD

Both Autism and ADHD can cause social difficulties, but children with Autism typically have more significant problems in this area. They may have trouble understanding social cues and may prefer to be alone.

Meanwhile, children with ADHD may seek social interaction but not sustain them due to impulsivity and hyperactivity. They understand the nuances of social interactions but can't slow down enough to be successful. Children on the spectrum are also impulsive. 

Ways ADHD and Autism are Similar 

  • Children with ASD and ADHD are impulsive
  • Low motivation in non-preferred areas.
  • Both kids with ASD and ADHD have problems with behavioral and emotional regulation.
  • Children with ASD and ADHD can struggle socially
  • Children with ASD and ADHD have trouble transitioning
  • Children with ASD and ADHD have weaknesses in executive functioning
  • Both children with ASD and ADHD are prone to verbal impulsivity but kids with ASD are prone to critical verbal impulsivity (“That is the wrong answer, Mr. Smith”).
  • Sensory issues can be present in both ASD and ADHD. 
  • Both ASD and ADHD kids can be “picky eaters.”
  • Children with ASD and ADHD can have low tone and hypermobility but kids with ASD almost always have it.
  • Both can have MTHFR genetic mutations. 

Ways ADHD and Autism are Different

  • The QEEG Brain Maps of a child with ASD look functionally different than that of a child with ADHD. 
  • Those with ADHD can read body language but those with ASD can’t.
  • Kids with ASD are prone to social misperception. 
  • Children with ASD are interested in a few things and may become obsessed with their favorite novel and movie series while children with ADHD are interested in many things, and their hobbies may shift frequently or impulsively.
  • Children with ASD exhibit repetitive, stereotypical behaviors (hand flapping, repeated movements, or sounds) while children with ADHD do not. 
  • Children with ASD resist change and prefer routines while children with ADHD dislike routines and seek out change.
  • Children with ASD often have problems with motor coordination while this is less typical with ADHD.
  • Children with ADHD can be gifted socially and quite charming while this isn’t found in kids with ASD.
  • Children with ADHD have at least an average IQ, whereas kids with ASD can have significant cognitive impairments. 

Asperger's Disorder Also Called High-Functioning Autism

Asperger's Syndrome is a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder that is no longer a stand alone disorder and instead is part of the autism spectrum. It is a developmental disorder that affects social skills and behavior. Children with Asperger’s have normal to high cognitive functioning but often find it difficult to relate to others and may exhibit repetitive or rigid thinking patterns. They may feel like social outsiders who find it challenging to fit in. 

From 1994 to 2013, Asperger syndrome was recognized as a separate condition and one of the five pervasive developmental disorders and was acknowledged as a distinct category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), with diagnosed kids showing impairment in three main areas: social skills, repetitive patterns of behavior and interests, and language skills.

In 2013, Asperger’s was folded into one general Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) category due to inconsistencies in the diagnostic criteria. Since the reclassification, US practitioners can no longer give an Asperger’s diagnosis to anyone. Those who received an Asperger’s diagnosis before 2013 are now considered to have autism.

Within the community, Asperger’s may be referred to as “high-functioning autism,” because children with Asperger’s typically have higher IQ than others on the Autism Spectrum. With higher cognitive skills a person with ASD can function more easily in society. With that being said, no matter where you are on the autism spectrum, having social impairments makes everyday life very challenging. 

The term is still frequently used by individuals in the US and is also accepted in other countries. 

Autism Spectrum Disorder 

There is no one type of autism, but many.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder that manifests in children and can last throughout their lifetime. 

Children with autism have poor social skills, repetitive behaviors and speech, limited interest, and struggles with nonverbal communication. 

Autism can range from mild and severe, and symptoms can vary from child to child. 

Because ASD is a spectrum disorder, each child with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. Some children show average to high intelligence and can learn, think, and problem-solve in school. Others may display cognitive impairments and need much more support, including homeschooling. 

However, all children with autism struggle with socialization and may fail to understand nonverbal cues or “read between the lines.” They may also struggle with learning and attention. 

A kid with high-functioning autism may do well in the classroom and have good grades but may need someone to bring his lunch money. They may wear headphones because they are sensitive to noise. 

The goal of every family with an autistic kid is to help the kid become as independent as possible. Those with high-functioning autism may finish school and live independently, while others may need some support.

Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder 

Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder affects a child’s cognitive, social, and communication skills. The symptoms of ASD vary according to age, gender, and cognitive functioning with some people displaying more severe symptoms than others.

Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Avoidance of eye contact (can be present in SPD and ADHD also)
  • Desire for sameness
  • Distinctive strengths (with high functioning ASD or formally Asperger’s)
  • Avoidant behaviors and general lack of engagement with others
  • Delayed language development
  • Difficulty with back and forth body language, facial expressions, and gestures
  • Difficulty comprehending other people’s feelings
  • Lack of reciprocal communication skills 
  • Sensory processing difficulties, including under or overstimulated reactions to sensory stimuli (sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights, and/or colors)
  • Struggles with time management
  • Persistent repetition of words or phrases (echolalia)
  • Resistance and reaction to minor changes in routine or surroundings
  • Restricted interests
  • Fixated interests
  • Repetitive behaviors, such as flapping, rocking, and spinning
  • Poor executive functioning
  • Low motivation in non-preferred areas

Other Symptoms of Autism

Most children with autism possess heightened senses and may be oversensitive to light, sound, touch, or smell. They may also exhibit physical issues like gastrointestinal disorders, seizures, or sleep problems. Many people with autism struggle with anxiety, depression, or attention issues.

Getting a Diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorder 

Getting a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder involves clinical interviews, observations, and behavioral rating scales. Providers may conduct a one-to-one assessment with your child to look at social, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional functioning and learning.

While there is no universal assessment measure, The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-2) is often considered the gold standard.

Age and Diagnosis

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, ASD can be diagnosed even before they turn three. The American Academy of Pediatrics revised their autism guidelines for the first time in twelve years in an effort to help diagnose kids earlier.

Delayed learning can be the first sign of autism. ASD can be diagnosed as early as 18 months, although developmental delays become more evident by age 2 or 3, as the child seems to fall behind their peers. 

Early intervention leads to positive outcomes for children with autism, especially later in life. However, children are still getting diagnosed beyond age four.  

The earlier the diagnosis the better the life outcomes for kids on the spectrum because they get early intervention, so trusting your gut and pushing for answers is important. 

Common Early Signs of Autism Include:

Common Early Signs of Autism

  • Loss of previously acquired speech
  • Delays in speech, babbling, or social functioning
  • Delayed processing or learning
  • Limited eye contact
  • No response to their name being called
  • Little or no desire to interact
  • Low activity levels
  • No back and forth smiling or engagement
  • Lack of facial expressions
  • Extreme irritability
  • Fixation on certain objects

Diagnosis, Gender, and Autism

Girls and boys can have ASD, and it is not a “one size fits all” neurodevelopmental disorder.  Autism manifests differently in boys and girls, with girls experiencing milder symptoms. As such, providers must assess all children for autism, regardless of symptom severity.

Imaging studies on children with autistic brains reveal brain structure anomalies in ASD. Children with autism have differences in brain regions related to the severity of clinical symptoms in behavior and functioning. 

Boys exhibit more impairment in the brain's motor, visual-spatial, attention, and language areas.

Those differences may manifest in the outward, and more observable behaviors males tend to have, making it easier to identify them with autism.

Hans Asperger initially observed boys when he discovered Asperger’s Syndrome. As a result, there were underdiagnoses of females with Asperger’s Syndrome, which persists until today, according to the Asperger/Autism Network (AANE).

Girls are often misdiagnosed with other disorders, or ASD is missed entirely by professionals since it doesn’t present itself in a typical fashion.

Moreover, it’s not unusual for females to prefer solitary moments. So, girls with ASD who exhibit isolation were left unnoticed. Furthermore, they may also focus intensely on specific topics, including literature, animals, and the arts.

There are also racial-ethnic disparities associated with the diagnosis of autism. White children are more likely to be diagnosed than black children, and when black children are diagnosed, it is more likely to be later in life.

Getting the Correct Diagnosis for ASD

Children with ASD are often diagnosed based on their behaviors rather than physical symptoms. Therefore, some children can be missed and not receive the support they need. 

QEEG Brain Maps reflect clear patterns of those with Autism and can be helpful in diagnosis. The brains of those with Autism reflect hyper communication brain wave activity. This hyperactive brainwave activity is consistent with rigid thinking, over focusing, and anxiety, which are behaviors that are readily seen in Autism. 

Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder Syndrome

Autism is a spectrum of closely related disorders, with subtypes that genetic and environmental factors can influence.

There is not one known cause of Autism. However, research suggests that certain prenatal and postnatal factors may increase a child’s risk of developing an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Those factors include:

  • A chromosomal abnormality, such as fragile X syndrome
  • Genetic mutations such as MTHFR
  • Use of prescription medicines during pregnancy, such as valproic acid for seizures or mood disorders or thalidomide for anxiety
  • Having been born to older parents

Many researchers point to brain growth and maturation disturbances as important path mechanism. Clinical studies have shown that ASD patients possess normal brain sizes at birth but experience abnormal overgrowth at 1–2 years of age. 

Regardless of the cause, it is essential to remember not to blame yourself but to focus on understanding and seeking treatment.

With the many science-backed treatments available, a family with a kid with Autism can foster a healthy, happy life. 

What is the Right Treatment for Autism?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to ASD Syndrome. Early intervention is key. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that the goal of all treatments should focus on:

  • Minimizing core deficits 
  • Improving social communication and interaction
  • Reducing restricted or repetitive behaviors and interests
  • Reducing co-occurring associated impairments
  • Maximizing functional independence by facilitating learning and acquisition of adaptive skills
  • Eliminating, minimizing, or preventing problem behaviors that may interfere with functional skills

Early diagnosis allows parents to better understand and support their children, which is the child’s primary need. Some outward signs of autism or neurodivergent traits should not be “corrected” but managed in a way that will make a child healthy and happy. 

Early intervention enables children with autism to receive support for social development and long-term integration into the world.

People with autism enjoy a better quality of life when they can incorporate the things they are highly interested in into their jobs and lives.

Many evidence-based therapies can help people on the spectrum. Behavioral therapy, parent coaching, social skills training, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy can all be effective treatment options. 

Treatments for Autism

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for autism, but there are natural and science-backed treatments to manage specific symptoms, including:

  • Neurofeedback
  • PEMF
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Joint Attention therapy
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Parent-mediated therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Social skills training
  • Speech-language therapy

Tips For Parents of Children With Autism

Children diagnosed with ASD can enjoy a high-quality, thriving, joy-filled life. Identifying and diagnosing the disorder as early as possible is essential, and participating in necessary therapies will help provide the ultimate toolset for navigating the world.

What is ADHD and What Symptoms Should I Look For?

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that starts in childhood but may not be diagnosed until later in life. 

A child or teen with ADHD will likely exhibit inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. These symptoms can occur together or separately These kids may be unable to finish homework or household chores, as well as appear to be unmotivated.

When a child is unfocused and impulsive, he may struggle with regulating their behaviors and be a poor decision maker, which makes parenting hard. 

ADHD Symptoms and Types of ADHD 

There are three types of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined. They are usually identified by symptoms and core features. 

  • ADHD, combined type. The most common type of ADHD is distinguished by the presence of impulsive and hyperactive behaviors and inattention and distractibility.
  • ADHD, impulsive/hyperactive type. This rare type of ADHD is characterized by impulsive and hyperactive behaviors, although the kid is usually capable of focusing.
  • ADHD, inattentive and distractible type. This type of ADHD is set apart by inattention and distractibility without hyperactivity.

Age and ADHD Diagnosis

Hyperactivity is commonly diagnosed in school-aged kids, although it can affect children of all ages. The symptoms of hyperactivity should be apparent by the age of 12. 

Inattention or attentional deficits may not be evident until a child has to do more complex schoolwork that requires more advanced executive functioning.  That means they have to think about thinking. They need to plan, prioritize and organize while doing a task and not just regurgitate information.

Executive functioning is different from ADHD because attention is the brain’s ability to alert whereas executive functions are a set of metacognitive skills that help you do a future task. Children with ADHD and autism often struggle with executive functioning but they are a set of skills that can be learned. 

It's common for parents to believe that children outgrow ADHD because these kids are often so bright that they can compensate. However, ADHD is a lifelong neurological condition that can impact their learning, relationships, and functionality throughout their life.

In children, ADHD can impact their ability to learn at home and school. However, with the help of parents and teachers, children with ADHD can be successful in their studies and in managing their responsibilities.

In adults, ADHD presents itself in the workplace. Meeting deadlines, following through on tasks, and getting along with others can all be present. On the flip side, their creativity and hyper-focusing skills can be their superpowers. The ADHD brain can thrive when it finds what it loves!  

Gender and ADHD

Boys are more likely to be clinically diagnosed with ADHD because of their higher rate of observable hyperactive symptoms. Those “troublesome” behaviors are more likely to get these kids the help they need earlier in life. However, girls can also have the disorder but are more likely to be diagnosed later in life. 

They exhibit different symptoms with girls more likely to be prone to inattentive ADHD. The inattentive form of ADHD becomes evident in older school-age girls who must get through the heavier workload.

Causes of ADHD

Causes of ADHD

Many ongoing studies in child and adolescent mental health focus on determining the causes of ADHD. While the precise cause remains unknown, evidence suggests that ADHD is mainly genetic. 

ADHD is a brain-based biological disorder caused by low levels of brain chemical dopamine, a neurotransmitter. 

Brain imaging studies utilizing Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scanners reveal that children with ADHD possess lower brain metabolism in areas of the brain that command control attention, social judgment, and movement.

Concurrent studies are looking into several potential factors, including:

  • being born prematurely (before the 37th week of pregnancy)
  • low birth weight
  • smoking, alcohol, or drug abuse while pregnant

It remains unclear whether preservatives and artificial colors have a role in ADHD, although it is clear that consuming sugary food worsens hyperactivity in children. 

QEEG Brain Maps reflect clear patterns of those with ADHD. With ADHD, there are too many low-frequency or unfocused brain waves and not enough focused brain waves that cause the brain to be less alert. 

ADHD Treatment Plan

If your child is struggling with ADHD, know that you're not alone. There are many resources and treatments available to help your child manage their symptoms and live a fruitful and enjoyable life. 

At our center, we work with people all over the world and create a care plan that includes nutrition and lifestyle changes, supplements, neurofeedback and biofeedback, and psychotherapy. With the right support, you can live a happy and healthy life.

Autism and Attention

Many clinical studies estimate that as much as 50 to 70% of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also have comorbid attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The high comorbidity means that both focus and social challenges are common. 

Regulating the brain so it can pay attention is important. Neurofeedback not only regulates attention but it calms the brain too, which is especially important when anxiety is also prevalent in both conditions. 

What Parents Can do To Help Their Child with Autism or ADHD

Getting the right diagnosis is the first thing a parent can do. There are many reasons a child may exhibit difficulty focusing and ADHD is just one of them. It is important to rule out all the reasons your child could have a hard time paying attention.

Focusing on social skills development is paramount to future relationship development that will affect them personally and at work. A parent with an ASD kid may need to explain social rules to the kid because they can't pick them up naturally like neurotypicals. 

Kids with ADHD and autism both struggle with behavioral regulation so therapies such as neurofeedback can help calm their brain and body so they can pay attention, learn and connect socially in a more age-appropriate manner.

Citations:

Autism Speaks (2022), What is Aspergers’ Syndrome?

https://www.autismspeaks.org/types-autism-what-asperger-syndrome

National Library of Medicine (2011), Brain structure anomalies in autism spectrum disorder

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4801488/

National Institute of Health (2022), What are the treatments for autism?

https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/conditioninfo/treatments

Additude (2022), Why Sugar is Kryptonite: ADHD Diet Truths

https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-diet-nutrition-sugar

Hopkins Medicine (2022), Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Children

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/adhdadd 

NHS (2022), ADHD

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/

Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. *The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC does not guarantee certain results.

Are you looking for SOLUTIONS for your struggling child or teen? 

Dr. Roseann and her team are all about solutions, so you are in the right place! 

There are 3 ways to work with Dr. Roseann: 

You can get her books for parents and professionals, including: It’s Gonna Be OK™: Proven Ways to Improve Your Child’s Mental Health, Teletherapy Toolkit™ and Brain Under Attack: A Resource For Parents and Caregivers of Children With PANS, PANDAS, and Autoimmune Encephalopathy.

If you are a business or organization that needs proactive guidance to support employee mental health or an organization looking for a brand representative, check out Dr. Roseann’s professional speaking page to see how we can work together. 

Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of  media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post,, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.” 

She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach.  She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).

© Roseann-Capanna-Hodge, LLC 2022

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