What Is AuDHD?
AuDHD is the abbreviation for comorbid autism and ADHD. This means that a patient meets the diagnostic criteria for both autistic spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at the same time.
For many years, a dual diagnosis of ADHD and ASD was not permitted according to medical standards. That remained the case until 2013, when the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was released.
There is some overlap between symptoms for ADHD and ASD, which can sometimes make it difficult to determine whether a patient has one or both disorders. Some of the symptoms which can occur with both ADHD and autism include:
- Learning differences
- Social difficulties
- Emotional dysregulation
- Atypical movement (fidgeting, stimming, etc.)
- Executive function problems (difficulty organizing, planning, multitasking, etc.)
How Common Is AuDHD?
The prevalence of ADHD in the general population is around 10%. But among people with autism, that rate is much higher. In fact, it's estimated that about 50% to 70% of people with ASD also have ADHD.
If you look at the numbers from another perspective, they are just as striking. Only about 2% to 3% of people in the general population have autism. But if you look only at people with ADHD, you'll find that around 20% to 50% of them have autism or present some symptom or trait.
When it comes down to it, if you have ADHD, you have a much higher likelihood of being diagnosed with autism compared to someone who does not have ADHD. And if you have autism, you're more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than someone who’s not autistic.
The world is designed for neurotypical people. If someone has a neurodivergent disorder like ADHD or autism, they are bound to experience any number of challenges and frustrations in their daily life. They may struggle to develop strong social connections or experience problems at school or in the workplace, for example. At the same time, they face a stigma surrounding neurodivergent individuals that — despite some improvements due to growing awareness of these disorders — persists in our society.
When you have AuDHD, it's like having double the stigma to deal with. One of the main factors in ADHD stigma is a belief that it isn't a disorder at all, but rather a result of poor parenting or personal failings. Similarly, people with autism suffer from stereotyping and judgment for their disorder.
Children with autism are often left out of activities, teased, or bullied, and adults with ASD may feel like they have to mask their autism to avoid harassment. Many adults and children with ADHD have had similar experiences which caused them to feel embarrassment or shame surrounding their diagnoses.
Support groups can be a great resource for people with AuDHD. However, there aren't nearly as many groups for comorbid AuDHD as there are for only ADHD or only autism, which sometimes makes people feel that they have to choose which diagnosis they identify with more.
Access to AuDHD Care
One of the detrimental effects of AuDHD stigma is that it may hinder someone's ability to access the care they need. It's easy for someone to internalize the social stigma they see, and as a result, they may avoid diagnosis and treatment so they won't be seen as having something "wrong" with them.
Another obstacle to AuDHD care is that not all healthcare professionals are equipped to deal with this dual diagnosis. Since it only became official in 2013, it's still a relatively new option for the medical community. If someone doesn't have access to a clinician with the right expertise regarding both autism and ADHD, they may feel as though their care is lacking.
How to Treat AuDHD
AuDHD is difficult to treat because, despite several overlapping symptoms, the two disorders can contradict one another at times. For example, someone with AuDHD might benefit from a rigid routine, which is associated with autism. However, some common ADHD symptoms include trouble with time management and distractibility, which makes it hard to stick to a schedule.
Unfortunately, people who have AuDHD tend to have poorer outcomes compared to people with only ADHD or only autism. That's why it's so important to find a great resource for your AuDHD care with a clinician who understands both disorders.