Autism vs. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

The Burkhart Center specializes in autism research. Photo by Alicia Keene

Dotson said autism is more prevalent than it used to be, but experts are not exactly sure why because the cause of autism is still unknown.

He said he thinks the greater prevalence has to do with increased awareness because now there are more parents, pediatricians and diagnosticians who know what it is and are able to diagnose it.

Higher awareness has also lead to greater instances of misdiagnosis because people who have heard of autism tend to see it everywhere, he said.

“When you know autism is everywhere, you start to see autism everywhere,” Dotson said. “So, anyone who flaps their hands a little bit or is a little socially awkward will suddenly now be given an autism label.”

In his personal opinion, Dotson said he thinks autism is the new attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“A lot of kids that are being diagnosed with high-functioning autism now would have been diagnosed with ADHD 15 years ago,” he said. “10 to 15 years before that, those very same students would have been diagnosed with a learning disability of some kind.”

He said higher functioning autistic people who only have some academic or social deficits share a lot of symptoms as people with ADHD.

The predominate similarity between autism and ADHD are repetitive behaviors such as pen tapping, he said.
Similar to people with ADHD, Dotson said high-functioning autistic people also have trouble focusing in a classroom.

He said any change in a classroom environment could interrupt their concentration and make it difficult for them to work successfully because of their insistence on routine and sameness.

“They may be really bothered by the sound of fluorescent lights or by anyone else talking,” Dotson said.

The mechanisms are different from ADHD, he said, because a person with ADHD literally cannot concentrate for a long period of time.

For example, he said if you put an autistic kid in a quiet room, the student might be able to work for an hour, but an ADHD student in the same situation will still not be able to concentrate for more than a few minutes.

If you give a person with autism their preferred routine in their preferred environment, he said, then you will not see as much interruption in their concentration.

Dotson said the distinction between these two circumstances could be hard to make, even for people who are experienced.

About Alicia Keene

Graduate Executive Director
Alicia Keene is a dual master's student from Austin, Texas studying mass communication and business. One day, she hopes to work for a prominent news publication in a major city as either a reporter or producer.

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