Autism vs. ADHD: A Parent’s Guide to Tricky Diagnoses

Social delays. Communication difficulties. Repetitive behaviors. What’s behind them: ADHD? Autism? Both? When conditions overlap, parents need an intimate understanding of each diagnosis to manage treatment – and everyday life.

Autism Medication Options


If behavioral and educational interventions aren’t sufficient, medication may help. Because children with ASD have unpredictable reactions to stimulants, the most common class of medicines used for ADHD children, they are less likely to be prescribed for autistic children. Most pediatricians, and virtually all child psychiatrists, feel competent in prescribing stimulants for ADD. A pediatrician may refer a child with ASD to a psychiatrist or a psycho-pharmacologist as the dose is increased.

A class of medicines called atypical neuroleptics are often effective treatments for motor restlessness, repetitive behaviors, and sleep disturbance in children with autism. These include aripiprazole (Abilify), quetiapine fumarate (Seroquel), and risperidone (Risperdal, the only one of the three that is FDA-approved for treating behaviors associated with autism). A good response to an atypical neuroleptic may eliminate the need for a stimulant.

Every child with autism will benefit from the support of a developmental and behavioral pediatrician or a child psychiatrist with training in the autism spectrum. Having a specialist who understands what it’s like to live with an active autistic child (is there any other kind?) is a bonus for parents, as well.

More About Conditions Related to ADD/ADHD

Is It Anxiety or ADD/ADHD?
Is It Asperger's Syndrome or ADD/ADHD?
Is It Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) or ADD/ADHD?
Is It Bipolar Disorder or ADD/ADHD?
Is It Depression or ADD/ADHD?
Is It Executive Function Disorder (EFD) or ADD/ADHD?
Is It a Learning Disability or Inattentive ADD/ADHD?
Is It Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) or ADD/ADHD?
Is It Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or ADD/ADHD?


Alternative ADHD Treatment Guide
In-depth research and tips about non-medical ADHD treatments such as behavior therapy, working-memory treatment, and omega-3 fatty acids.

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TAGS: Comorbid Conditions with ADD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder

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