ADHD and Asperger share some similarities that may make diagnosis difficult. The two disorders are separate medical conditions with some similar symptoms. The fact that a person can have both Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) further adds to the confusion. Learn about the definition of the two disorders, which can help you recognize the important differences between the two conditions.
ADHD and Asperger Overview
Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD both have attention-related symptoms. Sometimes one condition is mistaken for the other. Yet, a close look at both conditions reveals key differences.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a medical condition characterized by problems with paying attention, staying focused on an activity or subject, problems following directions and periods of extreme energetic activity.
Cases of ADHD generally fall into three subtypes – predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, predominantly inattentive and combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive. The inattentive and impulsive behaviors most closely resemble Asperger behavior. ADHD is usually diagnosed during childhood and may persist into adulthood.
Asperger’s Syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication skills and may involve sensory issues. Symptoms include problems holding two-way conversation, trouble understanding verbal instruction as well as obsessive and repetitive behaviors. The condition is generally diagnosed during early childhood.A child with Asperger generally has a very narrow range of interests and may have trouble focusing on things outside of his interests. The attention problems and communication difficulties are aspects of Asperger’s Syndrome that can be confused with ADHD.
Similarities Between Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD
The following symptoms show the similarities between ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome:
- Attention problems
- Talking at someone or talking nonstop
- Problems following directions
- Learning problems
- Often appears to not be listening to someone during a conversation
- Irrationally energetic activity (In Asperger, the energetic activity may involve a self-stimulating or repetitive behavior.)
- Says inappropriate things and has problems figuring out the appropriate response to some situations
Differences Between Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD
The main differences between Asperger and ADHD deal with focused attention ability as well as whether or not obsessive behaviors and sensory issues are present. In ADHD, the main problems are centered on attention problems and both impulsive and hyperactive behaviors. Asperger focuses more on attention problems that include other medical issues such as language difficulties, a need for strict routines, self-stimulating behaviors and obsessive rituals.Unlike the child with ADHD, a child with Asperger does have the ability to focus on an activity of interest. A child with AS will be able to focus his attention on an area of interest with an intensity that excludes everything else in his environment. For example, a child with AS may spin an object for hours and refuse to engage in any other activity. The child with Asperger may be inattentive to activities outside of his interest and have trouble focusing on his teacher’s verbal instructions.
There is also a difference in the emotional expression in Asperger and ADHD. A child with Aspergers may get angry if his routine or favorite activity is interrupted. Yet, he does not generally show a wide range of emotions in public. Since he may have trouble understanding other people’s emotions, he may react inappropriately. A child with ADHD may be prone to express emotions clearly.
The child with ADHD may not be able to focus on any activity or subject for more than a few minutes. She may switch activities a number of times before completing a task. She might have trouble understanding instructions because she has trouble focusing on the directions. She is often impatient and may act out and express her emotions without first thinking about possible consequences.
Cormorbidity of Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD
It is possible for a child have a cormorbidity of ADHD and Asperger, meaning that both conditions are present. A child with both conditions will have more ADHD symptoms, such as impulsivity and hyperactivity, than common in Asperger. It is important to get a proper diagnosis if both conditions are present in order to obtain an effective treatment plan.
Visit the National Resource Center on ADHD website for more information on ADHD and the Online Asperger’s Syndrome Information and Support (OASIS) website to learn more about Asperger’s Syndrome.
Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD share some similarities that can make diagnosis challenging. However, a close examination of their definitions reveals that the attention problems in Asperger are quite different from ADHD symptoms. A child can have both Asperger and ADHD, which requires treatment of both conditions. Early intervention can help a child find effective ways to deal the many learning challenges associated with both conditions.