Asperger’s or ADHD? Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

Written by Kimberly Holland | Published on October 9, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on October 9, 2013

Is it Asperger's or ADHD? Know how to tell the difference.

Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Asperger’s syndrome (AS) are very familiar terms for parents today. Many parents have faced an ADHD or AS diagnosis with their children, while other parents worry they will one day.

An increase in diagnosis and an increase in understanding about autism and ADHD, means more children are being diagnosed earlier than ever before. Early diagnosis is the best way to effectively treat both conditions. Sometimes, however, pinpointing a child’s problem isn’t all that easy.

Read about their differences and similarities, and how both can be properly diagnosed and treated.

What Is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s syndrome (AS) is part of a group of conditions called autistic spectrum disorders. AS may prevent children from socializing freely and communicating clearly. Children with AS may develop repetitive, restrictive behaviors. This may include an attachment to a specific item or the need for a strict schedule.

Disorders on the autism spectrum range from mild to severe. Experts categorize Asperger’s as a mild disorder. Many individuals with AS can lead an almost normal life. Behavioral therapy and counseling can help them cope with their AS symptoms.

What Is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a childhood disorder. Children with ADHD have trouble paying attention, focusing, and learning. Some children will outgrow their symptoms as they get older. Other children will continue to experience symptoms of ADHD through their adolescent years and into adulthood.

What Symptoms Do ADHD and AS Share?

Many ADHD and AS symptoms overlap. In fact, AS is sometimes confused for ADHD.

Children with both of these conditions may exhibit:

  • difficulty remaining seated and still
  • social awkwardness and difficulty interacting with others
  • frequent episodes of non-stop talking
  • an inability to focus on things that do not interest them
  • impulsivity, or acting on a whim

How Can You Tell the Difference Between AS and ADHD?

Despite the symptoms they have in common, a few symptoms set apart AS and ADHD.

Five symptoms specific to each, include:

Asperger’s Syndrome

  • all-absorbing interest in specific topics, such as sports statistics or animals
  • an inability to practice nonverbal communication, like eye contact, facial expressions, or body gestures
  • seeming unable to empathize or understand another person’s feelings
  • a monotone pitch or lack of rhythm when speaking
  • missing motor skill development mile markers, such as catching a ball or bouncing a basketball

ADHD

  • easily distracted and forgetful
  • learning difficulties due to problems processing information accurately and quickly
  • a need to touch or play with everything, especially in a new environment
  • very impatient and often unable to wait their turn
  • reacting without restraint when upset or bothered, or without consideration for others

When Are ADHD and AS Noticeable in Children?

Both AS and ADHD are present in a child’s earliest years. It’s possible (and a goal of many healthcare professionals) to diagnose both conditions early in the child’s life so treatment can begin to best manage the condition.

Children with ADHD are often not diagnosed until they enter a structured environment, such as a classroom. At that point, teachers and parents may begin to notice obvious behavioral symptoms.

AS is typically not diagnosed until a child is a bit older. The first obvious sign may be delayed motor skill milestones. Other symptoms aren’t easy to pinpoint until they’re older. For example, it may take a few years to notice that your child’s difficulty socializing hinders their ability to maintain friendships.

Who Is More Likely to Have ADHD and AS?

In both cases, boys are at a greater risk for developing both ADHD and AS. In fact, boys are more than twice as likely as girls to develop ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The most common ADHD-related behaviors can differ between the two genders, however. Boys tend to be more hyperactive and inattentive, while girls are more apt to daydream or quietly not pay attention.

All autism spectrum disorders are five times more common in boys than girls, so AS is more common in boys than girls, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Who Diagnoses ADHD and AS?

Both conditions are hard to diagnose. Neither condition can be diagnosed with a single test or procedure. A team of healthcare specialists will work together to reach an agreement about your child’s condition.

These experts typically include:

  • your child’s pediatrician
  • a psychologist
  • a neurologist
  • a speech therapist
  • professionals with expertise in diagnosing behavior and autism spectrum disorders

The team will collect and consider behavioral assessments, results from developmental tests, and first-hand accounts of interactions with your child. They may conduct speech or visual tests of their own.

How Are ADHD and AS Treated?

Neither ADHD nor AS can be cured. Treatment focuses on reducing your child’s symptoms and helping them have a happy, well-adjusted life.

Most children with ADHD will see relief with medication or behavioral therapy and counseling. A combination of both can be very successful. Medication is used to treat your child’s ADHD symptoms if they interfere too much with everyday activities.

Therapy, counseling, and behavioral training are the most common treatments for AS. Medication is not commonly used. Medicine may be prescribed, however, to treat some of the co-existing conditions children and teens with AS sometimes experience. These conditions include depression and anxiety.

Help Your Child’s Doctors Find a Diagnosis

As your child’s parent, you see the everyday struggles they face. You also see more symptoms than a doctor or therapist can see in a short appointment. Help your child and your child’s healthcare providers by recording what you see.

Be sure to note:

  • your child’s routine, how busy they are, how long they are away from home
  • any medicines, vitamins, or supplements they take
  • personal family information that may cause your child anxiety, such as a divorce or new child
  • reports of your child’s behavior from teachers or childcare providers

Make an Appointment

If you suspect your child has ADHD, AS, or another developmental or behavioral condition, make an appointment to see their pediatrician. Bring your notes about your child’s behavior with you. Also, bring a list of questions you have for your child’s doctor. Reaching a diagnosis for either condition can take several months, even years. Be your child’s advocate and help them get the help they need.

Remember: Each child is different and unique. Do not gauge your child’s development by another child. Work with your doctor to make sure your child is meeting their growth milestones, and if they aren’t, consider all possibilities, including AS and ADHD.

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