What to know about Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD

July 26th, 2019
Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD are two conditions that both involve brain development. They tend to develop early in life and may cause some similar behavior traits.

The medical community, as of 2013, no longer diagnose Asperger’s syndrome as a separate condition. Instead, they place it under the umbrella term of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People have typically used the term Asperger’s syndrome to refer to mild forms of autism or “high-functioning” autism.

In an article in the Asperger/Autism Network, one doctor writes that, in her experience, some 60–70% of people with Asperger’s syndrome have characteristics doctors also associate with ADHD.

Despite some similarities, ASD and ADHD, the full name of which is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, are very different conditions with different causes.

In this article, we discuss the differences between ASD and ADHD, their characteristics, and how doctors diagnose them.


Despite the potential to cause some similar behavioral traits, ASD and ADHD are two distinct conditions.

In a nutshell, autistic people have difficulty understanding or responding to social norms and cues. A person may become overly interested in a topic or object. On the other hand, people with ADHD have underlying difficulties with attention, hyperactivity, and may have problems with impulsivity.

ASD and ADHD are both neurodevelopmental disorders, according to the American Psychiatric Association. However, ADHD is not a spectrum disorder like ASD.

ADHD is more common than ASD.

Doctors may have difficulty working out whether an autistic child has ADHD or ASD. However, many behavior traits differ between the two conditions.

Autistic people and those with ADHD may notice the following characteristics:

  • difficulty regulating attention
  • trouble following social rules and understanding social cues or norms
  • high impulsivity

Behavior traits that occur in ASD but not ADHD include:

  • having an intense interest in one topic or object
  • different speech or language traits from neurotypical people, such as speech without inflection or trouble controlling volume or pitch
  • trouble understanding humor, irony, or sarcasm
  • difficulties understanding the give-and-take of conversations or seeming to be engaged with conversations, although some people with ADHD may interrupt others who are talking
  • trouble showing empathy
  • trouble making eye contact and other nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions or body gestures
  • trouble understanding social rules
  • developmental delays in motor skills in some cases

Behavior traits that occur in ADHD but not ASD include:

  • trouble focusing or paying attention to details
  • being easily distracted and forgetful
  • trouble following instructions and finishing schoolwork, job duties, or chores
  • daydreaming often
  • taking physical risks or playing too rough
  • being impatient and having trouble sitting still during quiet activities
  • understanding but breaking rules or not listening to directions

How pronounced and numerous a person’s difficulties can help distinguish ASD from ADHD. For example, autistic children can find socializing more difficult than children with ADHD due to problems interpreting and responding to social cues and norms.

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