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Fine line between ADHD and Aspergers/Autism?

Fine line between ADHD and Aspergers/Autism?2013-05-31T15:28:03+00:00

The Forums Forums Ask The Community Fine line between ADHD and Aspergers/Autism?

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    Post count: 53

    Hi all!

    All my life it was clear I had “Something” starting with tics and extreme sensitivity to light and noise, yet a brilliance/extreme talent in other ways such as incredible connection with and ability to trail large animals that experienced adult trainers could not and ability to be engaged in the same activity/game as a child (example setting up toy road systems, building a toy city etc..) for 10 hrs straight without stopping and ever loosing attention completely lost to the world.

    My mother was advised by doctors to have me tested for Tourette Syndrome but she didn’t want me to be labeled to I wasn’t tested until I was 27 and finally needed to know what made me different so I could finally better understand the world. I went to a renound psychiatrist and said it’s ADHD for sure with either Tourette Syndrome or just maybe I may fall into the Autism/Aspergers spectrum.

    I immediately rejected the later and fully embraced the former as it was the least scary I suppose and closer to being socially accepted at least I thought at the time lol. It seemed to fit and so I was relieved!

    However over the past couple of years I have been wondering if the following things really do fall within the ADHD/Tourette Spectrum of whether that Doctor’s hunch should be explored.

    Here’s a list of things I’ve always struggled with from the trivial to the more serious:

    Clothing tags! Not just a dislike but a complete I’m going to jump out of my skin if I don’t stop this thing from rubbing on me!

    Extreme sensitivity to light and sound to the point I would be crying in not pain but I’m not sure what you could call it…intolerance I suppose

    Rocking or wrapping myself in blankets only way to truly calm down and feel comfortable

    Extremely jumpy! Noticed at age 2!

    Can’t stand getting splashed or the feeling of wind or rain on my skin.

    Never know how long to hug or shake hands for

    Used to have to tap fingers on table, wall three times for some reason but don’t know why (not OCD pretty easy going don’t have to have things orderly or a certain way, not perfectionist)

    Incredibly underdeveloped fine motor skills. Seriously terrible! I’m a 29 year old with a University Degree who writes like a 6 yr old. I’ve tried all the programs and everything it’s useless. Can’t cut or draw a semi straight line even and wrapping presents is a no go.

    Tics ~Wrist and ankle wringing, frequent blinking especially when have to maintain eye contact, grunt/breath out no sound now but as a child had a slight vocalization like a hmm sound and again repressed for so long now gone head nod with a thrust

    Completely perplexed by simple step by step instructions baffled and so much anxiety from this

    Terrible at estimating time, money or amounts yet can remember family and friends phone numbers for a decade no problem

    Great at remember names but not faces (which is more embarrassing than forgetting names TRUST me!)

    I’m sure there’s more but as usual I lost the paper I had written notes on and can’t remember some of the points I had thought of earlier 🙂

    Never gotten better at spelling and still space my letters/words unevenly and don’t write in a straight line across but slightly slanted sometimes upwards, sometimes downwards lol

    Couldn’t read notes but learned piano by ear and was quite good as well as learned a second language with ease but was always behind in math, accounting, well everything really unless it had to do with language or animals lol

    Always told I needed to be more tolerant and be more patient, stop interrupting, try to make eye contact, listen instead of just sharing my thoughts all the time, try to be on time, sit still, etc… of course you are all familiar with these sayings but I think under it all is this overwhelming feeling that I’m never doing the right thing. If i’m doing this I should be doing that, I want to do everything at once and yet at the same time I just want to wrap up in a blanket in my pj’s with NO TAGS and be comfortable.

    So what are your thoughts? Thanks for taking the time to read this 🙂


    Post count: 173

    Nothing says it has to be an either/or proposition here. I know someone who is diagnosed ADHD and Autistic.

    I’m a teacher, so it is outside the scope of my practice to diagnose anything, but if I had a student with the behaviours you are describing I would be urging the parents to take the child to a developmental paediatrician. To me, the rocking and the eye contact issues strongly suggest autism, but again it’s not my job to diagnose. I would ask your family doctor for a referral to a Psychiatrist.


    Post count: 363

    I knew someone who was diagnosed with both Asperger’s and ADHD.

    I also took an evaluation questionnaire with a group of other people who have ADHD, which showed that there is a range of severity of symptoms that still falls into the category of ADHD. So it’s a matter of “how impaired are you?” Some people experience things more intensely than others.

    But at the end of the day, other than how to best get treatment, it is what it is, and you are who you are. No matter what it’s called.

    I’m considered “ADHD inattentive type” and experience some issues similar to yours:

    Sensitivity to light and noise. If I have to be in an environment that is intensely stimulating for much time at all, I feel exhausted and become irritable.
    I don’t like to be in live groups of more than 10 people. I feel bombarded by “too much information” – extremely loud and incredibly close, etc.
    The clothing tag thing.
    Difficulty calming myself down and the tendency to get stuck in powerful emotional feedback loops that are hard to get out of. Not specifically requiring a blanket but at times intrusive, overpowering, and debilitating because until it passes, I can’t do anything else.
    I don’t like to get wet, so I won’t go swimming.
    Startle easily, and I’m physically uncoordinated, and don’t like to drive because it stresses me out too much. Don’t like surprises.
    I’m not into being “huggy” with people, but that isn’t as bad for me as shaking hands which is just gross.
    I hate the telephone.
    If I’m on the phone or watching TV or even working, I always have to be doodling on a sheet of scrap paper.
    My fine motor skills are good – it’s the gross motor skills that cause problems – like walking into door frames, dropping and spilling things, feeling off balance. If I’m facing someone and they move their right hand, I can mirror what they’re doing but I can’t copy it. They move their right, I move my left. It’s hard to turn myself around in space like that.
    Often I have to read the same passage five or six times to understand what it says.
    It’s easier for me to read or learn from what I see, but I don’t understand what people are saying in conversation nearly as well, and usually forget most of it immediately.
    Never remember names.
    Time expands and contracts, speeds up and slows down.
    I struggle with basic math. Haven’t balanced a checkbook in over thirty years.  Dealing with money terrifies me.
    I’m good at spelling because my visual memory is good.
    Terrible at music. In fact, most music really irritates me. I don’t listen to music but once in a blue moon. Also couldn’t learn to read music but did better with it by ear.
    I can mimic the sounds of foreign languages or regional accents pretty easily. (Even if I still have no idea what people are talking about).
    If I’m in an emotionally volatile state, I am pretty irrational. Which is annoying, and I think gets me labeled a bitch or a lunatic because when I’m upset, that’s when I have the greatest urge to communicate. Oops.
    But then again, I’m completely unable to be objective about myself as a person.
    I’m not good at interpreting the motives of others.
    I feel “out of it” most of the time – like there’s something other people can see that I can’t.
    I can definitely relate to the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing if you’re doing the right thing at any given moment.


    Patte Rosebank
    Post count: 1517

    @Sherri27, ADHD and Asperger’s are on the Autism Spectrum, and some symptoms do overlap.  The DSM-V no longer considers Asperger’s to be a separate condition.  It’s now part of Autism.

    What you’re describing sounds like a combination of ADHD and being an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), like me.

    Here’s what I’ve learned about ADHD and HSP.

    (You may want to print it out, so you can discuss it with your psych.)


    ADHD is situational.  

    It’s a paradox of incredible strengths in some situations, and incredible weaknesses in others.

    This is because most people’s brains are driven by what’s important, while the ADHD brain is driven by what’s interesting.  It’s not “broken”; it just works differently.  Kind of like the way some people are left-handed, while most people are right-handed.

    If something interests us, we can hyper-focus on it for hours, as time seems to fly by.

    But if something doesn’t genuinely interest us, we are physically unable to concentrate on it for more than a few minutes at a time.

    “Trying harder” won’t work, just as “trying harder” won’t enable you to ditch your bifocals and have 20/20 vision.

    Our interest-driven brain is also why we have trouble doing things in sequence.  Our brain wants to do the most interesting stuff first.  This lateral thinking is great for innovation and research, but not so great for assembling Ikea furniture that actually looks like it’s supposed to.


    The time-management issues are because we have trouble with things that are concepts, rather than actual things.  

    What we call “time” is an arbitrary concept (measured with clocks, timers, and calendars), not a physical reality.

    ADDers run on Nature’s clock, which is governed by daylight, darkness, and the heat of the sun.

    To an ADDer, Time is only NOW and NOT NOW.  And NOW is just the most immediate 4 seconds.  So, we have trouble with hindsight (and learning from it) and foresight (and planning for it).

    That’s why punishments don’t work for ADDers, because we can’t connect the punishment with what we did—because we may not remember doing it!

    And why, when we get distracted by something, we’re compelled to drop everything and deal with it immediately.

    And why we’re often running late, because we really believe that we can do all 10 things on our “To Do” list in just two hours…and can’t understand how doing “just one more thing” can make us an hour late.


    An ADDer’s working memory is much less than a neuro-typical’s.

    A 25-year-old neuro-typical can usually remember 5 items.  A 25-year-old ADDer can only remember 2.

    This is why we always need to write things down.  And why our handwriting is so messy, as we frantically try to capture those thoughts before we lose them.

    And why we need to blurt things out or do them as soon as we think of them.


    Those “tics” you describe might be regular ADHD fidgeting.

    Our brain needs a lot of stimulation, because our Right Prefrontal Cortex isn’t as active as in a neuro-typical brain.  So, we stimulate it with physical movement, like shaking a leg, drumming our fingers, chewing gum, humming, pacing, or rocking.

    Humming, singing, and talking our way through a process (including studying) not only stimulates the brain, but is the way that verbal processors learn.

    There are different ways of processing information.  If you learn best by talking, then you’re a verbal processor.  If you learn best when you’re moving around, then you’re a kinetic processor.

    Most people use a combination of processing methods, and ADDers tend to be verbal and kinetic processors.  This is why so many of us have trouble sitting still and quiet in school and meetings.


    But, if we’re allowed to follow our instincts and processing methods, ADDers tend to be the most caring, brilliant, empathic, creative, funny, innovative, loving people imaginable!

    We just need to work with people who thrive at doing the “uninteresting” tasks that we can’t (like paperwork), so that we can spend our time doing the tasks we do best.



    Now for the HSP…

    Elaine Aron has written the definitive book on HSP (http://www.amazon.com/Highly-Sensitive-Person-Elaine-Ph-D/dp/0553062182/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1370104646&sr=1-1&keywords=elaine+aron).  It’s a fascinating and easy read, and it’s available as an e-book, too.

    The rate of HSP is significantly higher in ADDers than in the general population.  And it manifests itself, right from infancy, in finding certain sensory experiences intolerably intense.

    Having to cut out clothing tags is very common for HSPs.  So is feeling so overwhelmed that we end up coccooning and in tears.  (Been there, done that.)

    But it gets easier, once you learn how to soothe your way through certain overwhelming situations…and when to follow your instincts and leave.


    The flipside of HSP is that we have incredible intuition—even more than non-HSP ADDers.  This can make us seem to be psychic, as even WE don’t know how we knew something!

    After a lifetime of being told by others to “stop being so sensitive”, we’ve learned to ignore our intuition and sensitivities, and to be ashamed of them.  But that’s exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.

    We’re like the “canary in a coal mine”.  Often, the things we’d tried to alert others to, actually come to pass (usually long afterwards), with very serious consequences.

    If only more people would listen to us in the first place…including us!


    allan wallace
    Post count: 478

    We are very intuitive though 🙂 Even as a tike I could ‘sense’ things about people no matter how hard they tried to conceal whatever it was… 🙂


    Post count: 162

    I think we are on the cusp of a whole new way of thinking about ADHD, and Autism. There is now talk of up to 50% of kids with Autism having ADHD as well. It’s just a matter of time before neurology, and genetic scientist put it all together.

    I teach adaptive skiing and snowboarding. Nearly all the kids with Autism have a parent with ADHD. The great thing about having ADHD myself is that when a kid is late, or is missing ski socks, I can have empathy for the parent, rather than being annoyed.

    Of the small group of white water kayak instructors locally (maybe twenty over the years), four have kids with autism (including myself). There is, or appears to be, ADHD in all the families.

    Though I’m not noticeably Aspie, I remember being fixated with symmetry as a young child. I hated London buses with their asymmetric driver cab. It maybe be that just as Autism can come with a degree of ADHD, ADHD can comes with a pinch of Autism.


    Post count: 1

    Hi outoftune

    just read your post and thought I would help by adding to it!!

    I have just been diagnosed with ADD and I’m 40 years old! Somehow I went through life with all the signs of inatentative ADD. Life got too much too handle after having a family. Too much to remember and be responsible for and it just pushed me over the edge and 3 years after being told I was depressed and that all they could do for me was give me anti depressants, I’ve got a diagnosis but still finding it hard to get any medication.

    When I was young like you I had ticks that involved eye blinking shaking my head and coughs! These disappeared by the time I was 13 but most of my typical ADD traits have remained and still make life hard to this day!  I have a lot of anxiety and social problemsthat come form living my life this way for so long! ( when you live your whole life like this you don’t know any different).

    I just know now from my own research that quite a few people with ADD suffer from tiks .

    Hope you managed to get a 100% diagnosis as this all helps with any treatment. I found a really good book by Daniel Amen called healing ADD that has been a big help to me





    Post count: 906

    @Outoftune if you’re still around, and everyone, some of the things on that list are definite signs of Autism. And I have or had all of them. I have two nephews, one with Aspergers and one with ADHD. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

    But as for the difficulty with writing, that doesn’t sound like a fine motor issue. More like Dysgraphia, which the nephew with ADHD also has. Fortunately, it does not affect typing and nowadays with laptops and tablets being used in the classroom it is a lot easier for kids who have it.

    @damian73, thanks for the reminder. I have to be sure to mention the tics and breathing problems when I go for my assessment next week. Mine mostly went away at about the same age, but they still crop up every now and then and sometimes I will develop a new one.


    Post count: 430


    None of the things you have mentioned about ADD, Asperger’s or Autism is fatal. None of these things is damning in any way. Ask anyone on these boards and they will tell you I think ADD is a curse. I am softening a little, because I can find worse things to be cursed with.


    I read that piece on ADD and HSP. I will have to find that book and bone up on it.



    Post count: 1

    Their really is an fine line between add, and autism..My wife and I had to get three different opinions from Doctors on our son Micah who’s 12 years old now, but at the time we started to began to think our son was struggling with some sort of disadvantage we really was caught by surprise because initially we just thought it was some type of phase that kids went through at his age. He was three years young when we noticed strange things that he would do like constantly taking toys, or just various things lying around on the floors or in his bed and moving then from one place to another repetitively over and over..My wife was more keen on noticing the behavior than I was! Then one day at daycare I get approached by his sitters and she told me that Micah didn’t interact with the other kids as much..So after we got that information, we started really discussing the possible potential problems he may have been having. Shortly after this is when I noticed that he wasn’t responding to his name as much as before and not making eye contact whenever we pick him up or hold him..That’s when we got our first opinion..Later we learned from doing our own research online and through various articles that most of the characteristics of his behavior was most associated with Autism after our first professional diagnosis said it was ADHD..and that’s what made us get the second opinion which was a diagnosis of Autism, then after with the third that was also Autism..So it is really a fine line with the characteristics and you really have to careful and do a lot of self education for yourself to help yourself or your children..After some research done online we have found a useful program online that we implement to help reverse some of his characteristics and to be quite honest we’ve seen significant improvements in Micah!..And I would be more than glad to give a link to the website for anyone who would like the information..http://ibourl.com/20py


    Post count: 906


    Good for you for catching it so early and doing something about it, and for doing your own research and getting a second opinion. A lot of parents don’t like to admit that their child isn’t “normal” and will fight getting a diagnosis which is extremely harmful to the child. Especially with Autism where  early intervention is  absolutely critical.

    Sorry, I sound like a know it all. But I actually do have a lot of knowledge in the area of child development and developing and implementing programs for kids with special needs. And it is an area of interest, so I can’t help commenting on it.

    I am definitely interested in taking a look at that website so thanks for the link.


    Rick Green – Founder of TotallyADD
    Post count: 473

    I looked at the criteria for Aspergers last year, and was surprised how high I scored.

    And what did I study in university? Science. Which branch? Physics. Why? Because it seemed the most fundamental. It was the basis of everything. It just seemed like it was going to reveal the mysteries of the universe and give me a sense of certainty. Then in first year they talked about the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. (Dang!)

    And yes, without Ava’s encouragement and commitment to people I could easily become a recluse, fairly happy to avoid people and putter away at my own speed. And not feel particularly lonely. For a while anyway.

    @blackdog is right, they can overlap. I agree with @shutterbug55 about these traits not being fatal. What causes the fatalities is not appreciating how your mind functions, and ending up in serious car crashes, or feeling suicidal because you don’t fit in and you’re not normal.

    I’m old enough and have been to enough ‘high school reunions’ to realize no one felt normal. No one is normal. And so I’m trying to avoid using the term normal and take on the much livelier phrase, ‘neuro-typical.’

    Who wants to be ‘typical’? Not me. Who wants to be ‘average?’ Not me.

    Who wants to have some good friends, enough money to be happy, a job that is meaningful and stretches us, hobbies we love, people we love who may even love us for who we are… not who we could be if we stop doing certain things and start doing other things?    Me! Me! Me!


    Post count: 3

    To all those who posted above me, I have always been fascinated with the human brain and riveted to understanding why we do the things that we do.  I have AD/HD, and I am a highly sensitive person (I also read the book in the past).  One of my cousins who has ADHD has a son who has been diagnosed as having Aspergers.

    I have many of the symptoms mentioned by all of you who posted above me to varying degrees plus other symptoms.  I was also born with a gift for language.  My brain even has seretonin and dopamine “fireworks of pleasure” whenever I hear words and/or see the spelled word in my brain.

    My aforementioned cousin’s son and I love studying/learning.  We both have sensitivities.  I feel so comfortable when I am with him.

    Based upon my research thus far, I find that AD/HD, Aspergers, Autism are on a spectrum and there is an overlap of symptoms to varying degrees.  I heard or read somewhere that a psychiatrist said they were now focusing on studying AD/HD in much more depth, as they believe it to be the key to understanding Autism.

    We are all unique.  But I keep hoping that we can all be accepted by everyone AS THE PEOPLE WE NATURALLY ARE (along with our respective disorders/syndromes/etc.).

    Despite the fact that I will never live up to the expectations of the neuro-typical people in my life regarding the mundane, day-to-day tasks that I must complete, I still think that I AM normal.  I am tired of having to struggle so much to accomplish the simple, mundane tasks in order to please neuro-typical people.  I would much rather spend my time learning, creating, composing, inventing, solving, etc. … you know HAVE FUN!

    I am oblivious to clocked time anyway.  I only “feel” time dragging while I am bored out of my mind trying to complete mundane day-to-day tasks.  I never “feel” time while I am having fun.  Only when something jars me out of my hyper focus upon a fun pursuit do I realize that many hours have passed by, and I failed to complete “important” tasks.

    I really loved your post Larynxa.  It was a great summary and explanation.

    For anyone who has Aspergers/Autism, I highly recommend anything written by Temple Grandin.  Here is her website link:  http://www.templegrandin.com/ where you can find a list of all of her books.  She has given lectures as well, which you may find on Youtube by entering her name.

    Outoftune, I have no degree to diagnose anyone.  However, I would suggest that you also read Temple Grandin’s books or listen to her Youtube videos.  It sounds like you exhibit some of the same behaviors that people with Autism experience, but in your own unique degree.

    All the best to everyone.


    Post count: 1

    Reading all of these entries has been so helpful. I was diagnosed ADHD when I was 55. Two years ago, at age 62, I was diagnosed Bipolar II – at the mild end of the spectrum. THAT diagnosis came as a shock and yet, as I learn more and more about this spectrum of issues I should not have been surprised. ADHD often has “friends” and I am in that situation. What I find interesting is just how broad this whole spectrum can really be. This whole HSP is new to me but boy, does it sound so familiar! Thank you for all of your entries – I am going to read up on HSP. Time to start learning. And a special thank you for your honesty and forthrightness – it is so appreciated.


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