Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are neurological conditions affecting learning ability, social skills, and language acquisition. Early diagnosis allows educators and parents to implement appropriate support systems to encourage success. However, many challenges to obtaining a correct diagnosis exist.
Similarities Between ADHD and ASD
The first obstacle to a diagnosis is the similarity of symptoms of ADHD and ASD. Since both conditions are rooted in structural abnormalities in the brain, they present many of the same symptoms. This overlap can contribute to misdiagnosis, or underdiagnosis can lead to improper interventions that do not support learning and social skills.
Symptoms of the two conditions that are most frequently confused are:
Trouble with language acquisition and processing
Repetitive behavior, such as repeating the same word or movement
Abnormal sleeping habits
Difficulty switching from one task to another
Every individual with either ADHD, ASD, or both may uniquely experience these symptoms. Additionally, some people present with one set of symptoms, while others will experience an entirely different combination. Therefore, an ADHD or autism assessment must look at all behaviors and abilities instead of sticking to a strict list of diagnostic criteria.
Diagnostic Criteria for ADHD
One criterion for an ADHD diagnosis is that symptoms must present in two or more locations. For many young children, that means waiting until the start of school, even if parents have concerns much earlier. This waiting period delays effective management strategies for years, leading to more significant learning deficits and more intense interventions once students receive a diagnosis. Early assessments for all school-aged children can help reduce the likelihood of additional delays.
Another challenge to proper diagnosis is the prevalence of dual or overlapping conditions. For example, current research shows that a significant number of individuals with ASD will eventually receive an ADHD diagnosis. Failure to recognize additional symptoms and behaviors may lead to frustration as existing interventions fail to meet expectations.
Using the proper assessment tools in schools reduces the risk of a missed or incorrect diagnosis. In doing so, it also supports students to succeed academically and socially in a school setting.
Undiagnosed Parental Conditions
ADHD and ASD have a significant genetic component and are highly hereditary. As a result, many children with ADHD have parents with the condition. However, many adults went through school without diagnosis due to poor screening rates. In these instances, they may recognize symptoms as normal behavior and dismiss the need for testing.
Widespread, routine testing is an excellent way to help identify students whose behaviors have not raised flags at home or in other settings. Additionally, assessments such as the (CAARS) Conners’ Adult ADHD Rating Scales can help identify older students and parents who may benefit from interventions.