Asperger’s syndrome (AS) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are familiar terms for parents today. Many parents have faced an AS or ADHD diagnosis with their children, while others worry they will one day.
Both conditions develop early in life and have similar symptoms. They can lead to difficulty in socializing, communicating, learning, and developing, but for different reasons. A better understanding of Asperger’s and ADHD means more children are being diagnosed than ever before, and at an earlier age. Early diagnosis is the best way to effectively treat both conditions, but pinpointing a child’s issues isn’t always easy.
Asperger’s syndrome is part of a group of neurodevelopmental conditions called autistic spectrum disorders. AS may prevent children from socializing freely and communicating clearly. Children with AS may develop repetitive, restrictive behaviors. These behaviors 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, with Asperger’s being a mild form. Many people with AS can lead a healthy life, and behavioral therapy and counseling can help AS symptoms.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder develops in childhood. Children with ADHD have trouble paying attention, focusing, and possibly learning. Some children will experience a significant decrease in symptoms as they get older. Others will continue to experience ADHD symptoms through their adolescent years into adulthood.
ADHD is not on the autism spectrum. However, both ADHD and autism spectrum disorders belong to the larger category of “neurodevelopmental disorders.”
Many AS and ADHD symptoms overlap, and AS is sometimes confused with ADHD. Children with both of these conditions may have:
- difficulty sitting still
- social awkwardness and difficulty interacting with others
- frequent episodes of nonstop talking
- an inability to focus on things that don’t interest them
- impulsivity, or acting on a whim
Although they share many symptoms, a few symptoms set AS and ADHD apart.
Symptoms specific to AS include:
- all-absorbing interest in a specific, focused topic, such as sports statistics or animals
- being unable to practice nonverbal communication, such as eye contact, facial expressions, or body gestures
- being unable to understand another person’s feelings
- monotone pitch or lack of rhythm when speaking
- missing motor skill development milestones, such as catching a ball or bouncing a basketball
Symptoms specific to ADHD include:
- being easily distracted and forgetful
- being impatient
- learning difficulties
- a need to touch or play with everything, especially in a new environment
- reacting without restraint or consideration for others when upset or bothered
Boys are at a greater risk for developing both AS and ADHD. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), boys are more than twice as likely as girls to develop ADHD. ADHD symptoms tend to differ between genders. Boys tend to be more hyperactive and inattentive, while girls are more likely to daydream or quietly not pay attention.
Autism spectrum disorders are about 4.5 times more common in boys than girls.
Symptoms of AS and ADHD are present in a child’s earliest years, and an early diagnosis is crucial to treating and managing the condition.
Children with ADHD often aren’t diagnosed until they enter a structured environment, such as a classroom. At that point, teachers and parents may begin to notice behavioral symptoms.
AS typically isn’t diagnosed until a child is a bit older. The first obvious sign may be a delay in reaching motor skill milestones. Other symptoms, such as difficulty socializing and maintaining friendships, become more apparent as the child gets older.
Both conditions are hard to diagnose, and neither condition can be diagnosed with a single test or procedure. With autism spectrum disorders, a team of specialists must reach an agreement about your child’s condition. This team can include a psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, speech therapist, and others. The team will collect and consider behavioral assessments and results from developmental, speech, and visual tests, and first-hand accounts of interactions with your child.
Neither AS nor ADHD can be cured. Treatment focuses on reducing your child’s symptoms and helping them live a happy, well-adjusted life.
The most common treatments for AS are therapy, counseling, and behavioral training. Medication is not commonly used. However, doctors may prescribe medication to treat other conditions that occur in children with and without AS. These conditions include depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
As a parent, you see the everyday struggles your child faces. You also see more of their symptoms than a doctor or therapist can in a short appointment. You can help your child and your child’s healthcare providers by recording what you see. Be sure to note:
- your child’s routine, including how busy they are and how long they’re away from home during the day
- the structure of your child’s day (for example, highly structured days or minimally structured days)
- any medicines, vitamins, or supplements your child takes
- personal family information that may cause your child anxiety, such as a divorce or a new sibling
- reports of your child’s behavior from teachers or childcare providers
Most children with ADHD will find relief with medication or behavioral therapy and counseling. A combination of these treatments can also be successful. Medication can be used to treat your child’s ADHD symptoms if they interfere too much with everyday activities.
If you suspect your child has AS, ADHD, or another developmental or behavioral condition, make an appointment to see their doctor. Bring notes about your child’s behavior and a list of questions for their doctor. Reaching a diagnosis for either condition can take several months, or even years. You will have to be patient and act as your child’s advocate so they get the help they need.
Remember that each child is different. Don’t gauge your child’s development by other children. Work with your doctor to make sure your child is meeting their growth milestones. If they aren’t, speak to your doctor about all possibilities, including AS and ADHD.