ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and autism are conditions the majority of people recognise, but it was once thought individuals could only be diagnosed with one or the other. The Guardian reported that just over a decade ago, the two conditions were considered to be “mutually exclusive” of one another.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM, contains descriptions, symptoms and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders.

The DSM described autism and ADHD and stated that a diagnosis of one made it impossible for the existence of the other. This was revised in 2013 (DSM-5). In more recent years the label of AuDHD, an unofficial term, has been used to describe individuals who are both autistic and ADHD.

A study conducted by the Lancet revealed around 1.2million people in the UK have autism. ADHD UK explained that data from the Lancet and NICE showed a childhood incidence rate of ADHD of five per cent and an adult incidence rate of three to four per cent, providing a total estimate of 2.6million people in the UK living with ADHD (708,000 children, 1.9million adults).

What is AuDHD?

While it is not an official diagnosis, people can be diagnosed with autism and ADHD as separate conditions, which spawned the creation of the AuDHD label. The term refers to someone who is both autistic and has ADHD, meaning they have traits characteristic of both conditions.

Embrace Autism explained that the diagnostic criteria for ADHD includes an attentional deficit. It wrote: “The diagnostic criteria conceptualize ADHD as an attentional deficit. However, ADHDers are perhaps better described as having a form of hyper-attention. ADHDers experience all stimuli at once and these stimuli all fight for our attention, making it difficult to attend to any one thing.

“The exception is when we are absorbed in something interesting. In this case, ADHDers experience hyperfocus just like autistics do. Therefore, if you previously thought that you couldn’t have ADHD because you can hyperfocus, we’ve got news for you, you may still be AuDHD.”

According to studies conducted in 2016 and 2020, up to 80 per cent of people with autism also have ADHD. Research before 2013 only looked at the two conditions in isolation, meaning those who received a formal diagnosis before then may have only had one diagnosis even though they fit the diagnostic criteria for both.

Autism, ADHD and AuDHD traits

While symptoms of each condition can present differently in boys and girls, men and women, Embrace Autism has shared a general overview of the traits experienced by individuals with the conditions, as well as how it may present itself in someone with AuDHD. For example, someone with autism will become hyper focused, while for someone with ADHD they may find difficulty paying attention (hyper-attention).

However, conversely, someone with AuDHD can experience both hyperfocus and hyper-attention. Traits exhibited by someone with both autism and ADHD can include:

  • Differences in social-emotional reciprocity, as well as their mind being elsewhere during conversation/communication
  • Differences in nonverbal communication
  • Hyperfocus, but also hyper-attention
  • Differences in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships
  • Finds special interests soothing, but has a need to alternate between interests
  • Routines offer comfort and guidance, but with a need to change tasks at any point
  • A drive to plan and organise, but difficult following through due to being overwhelmed
  • Attention to detail, but also prone to mistakes
  • More severe sensory sensitivities (often including light sensitivity), but also a need for stimulation
  • Challenges in daily functioning and forgetful in daily activities
  • Fails to follow through on tasks and instructions
  • Analytical, precise and lateral thinker, associative thoughts, and generates ideas