Blog for Individuals and Neurodiverse Couples Affected by ASD
Are you an adult with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger's? Are you in a relationship with someone on the autism spectrum? Are you struggling emotionally, socially, spiritually or otherwise? Then you've come to the right place. We are here to help you in any way we can. Kick off your shoes and stay awhile...
Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD: Tips for NT Spouses
"My wife and I have been married for going on 3 years now. She
was originally diagnosed with ADHD in college, but now after seeing a
therapist for anxiety/depression issues, they say she has Aspergers
(high functioning autism). What is the difference between these two …is
it possible to have both?"
Diagnosticians make their diagnoses based on the person’s behaviors. Since people with ADHD and ASD share similar behaviors, the two can appear to overlap. But, there is an essential difference between the two.
Here are some important distinctions:
• The unfocused ADHD individual is "nowhere," but the highly-focused or “fantasy-oriented" person with ASD is “somewhere else.” Fantasy people retreat into their own little world, one in which everything goes the way they want it to. Their daydreaming and fantasizing resembles the behaviors of some people with ADHD.
• The person with ADHD knows what to do in social relationships – but forgets to do it. The person with ASD doesn’t know what to do. The ASD individual doesn’t fully understand that relationships are two-sided. If he talks on and on in an un-modulated voice about his special interest, he simply doesn’t understand that he may be boring the listener and showing disinterest in the other person’s side of the conversation. Conversely, the person with ADHD can’t control himself from dominating the conversation.
• The ASD individual can appear unfocused, forgetful and disorganized just like a person with ADHD, but there is a difference. The ADHD individual is easily distracted, whereas the ASD individual has no "filter." She views everything in her environment as equally important (e.g., her college professor’s accent is as important as what he writes on the whiteboard). ASD individuals tend to get anxious and stuck on small things and can’t see the "big picture." Conversely, people with ADHD are not detailed-oriented. They understand the rules – but lack the self-control to follow them, whereas ASD individuals don’t understand the rules.
• People with ADHD respond to behavioral modification. With ASD, the disorder is the behavior. Both types of people can have anger-control issues, talk too loud and too much, and have problems controlling their behaviors and making friends. Both have experienced “social failures” to one degree or another – but for different reasons.
• Obsessive-compulsive individuals with ASD live in a world they create from rules and rituals. Like ADHD individuals, they appear preoccupied and distracted – but for different reasons. ASD individuals appear distracted because they are always thinking about their "rules" (e.g., Did I use my turn signal back there? Did I meditate for a full 10 minutes?).
• ASD individuals lack what professionals call "social reciprocity" or “Theory of Mind” (i.e., the capacity to understand that other people have thoughts, feelings, motivations and desires that are different from our own). People with ADHD have a Theory of Mind and understand other's motives and expectations. Also, they make appropriate eye contact and fully understand social cues, body language and hidden agendas in social interactions, whereas people on the autism spectrum don’t!
Some researchers estimate that 60% to 70% of people ASD also have ADHD, which is considered a common comorbidity of ASD. A dual-diagnosis is based on observation of behaviors that are similar for a myriad of disorders. The misfortune is that the affected person often doesn’t receive the correct medications, educational and employment supports, and social-skills training that could help her or him function on a higher level.