Asperger's vs. ADHD: What Are the Differences?

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Asperger's and ADHD are two conditions that are often confused because they have some overlap in symptoms such as social difficulties and impulsiveness. Additionally, it's common for people to have both conditions. However, there are also several key differences between the two conditions.

The condition, formerly known as Asperger's syndrome (now referred to as an autism spectrum disorder), is mainly characterized by social and communication difficulties. Meanwhile, ADHD is characterized by problems with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and attention.

This article discusses the similarities and differences between Asperger's and ADHD in more detail.

Symptoms

Symptoms of Asperger's and ADHD can overlap, but there are also some key differences. Both conditions can cause social difficulties, but people with Asperger's typically have more significant problems in this area. They may have trouble understanding social cues and may prefer to be alone.

People with ADHD, on the other hand, may be more likely to seek out social interaction but then have difficulty sustaining it due to their impulsivity and hyperactivity.

Below is a bullet point list of some of the symptoms of each condition and how they are similar or different.

  • People with Asperger's often have narrow interests and may become obsessed with certain topics. People with ADHD tend to have broader interests that may change frequently or impulsively.
  • Asperger's is characterized by repetitive behaviors, while ADHD is not.
  • People with Asperger's may have difficulty with change and need routines, while people with ADHD may seek out change and dislike routines.
  • People with Asperger's often have problems with motor coordination, while people with ADHD do not typically have this problem.
Asperger's
  • May have fewer interests and become obsessed with particular topics

  • Repetitive behaviors

  • A person may like routine and dislike change

  • Marked by motor coordination difficulties

ADHD
  • May have broader interests that change more frequently or impulsively

  • No repetitive behaviors

  • A person may dislike routine and welcome change

  • Motor coordination difficulties are not present

Causes

Asperger's and ADHD are both neurodevelopmental disorders, which means they are caused by problems with brain development. It is not known exactly what causes these problems, but it is thought that both genetics and environment play a role.

Causes of Asperger's

Some research suggests that Asperger's may be linked to a problem with the wiring and connections in different networks in the brain.

It is also thought that Asperger's may be linked to abnormalities with the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Causes of ADHD

Some research suggests that ADHD may be linked to a problem with the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. This theory is supported by the fact that people with ADHD often respond well to medications that affect dopamine and norepinephrine levels.

Diagnosis

Both Asperger's and ADHD are diagnosed based on symptoms. There is no medical or laboratory test for either condition. Instead, doctors typically use history, interviews, and behavior rating scales to make a diagnosis. It is important to note that both conditions can be diagnosed in childhood, but the symptoms may change over time.

Asperger's Diagnosis

Asperger's is typically diagnosed in childhood. To be diagnosed with Asperger's, a person must have significant problems with social interaction and communication and restricted, repetitive behaviors, while typically having good verbal skills.

The term Asperger's was replaced with autism spectrum disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Below are some of the diagnostic criteria for a diagnosis:

  • Significant problems with social interaction
  • Deficits in non-verbal communication
  • Repetitive behaviors or interests
  • Insistence on sameness and inflexibility

ADHD Diagnosis

ADHD is also typically diagnosed in childhood. To be diagnosed with ADHD, a person must have problems with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and attention. ADHD can be divided into three subtypes: predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, and combined presentation.

Below are some symptoms of each type:

Inattentive:

  • Problems with paying attention
  • Easily distracted
  • Difficulty following instructions

Hyperactive/impulsive:

  • Excessive activity
  • Problems with waiting for turns or taking turns
  • Talking excessively

Combined:

  • Symptoms of both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive types.

Treatment

It is important to properly diagnose Asperger's and ADHD because the treatments are different. There is no cure for either condition, but there are treatments that can help manage symptoms.

Asperger's Treatment

There is no specific treatment for Asperger's, but there are treatments that can help manage the symptoms. These treatments typically involve behavioral supports, speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, and social skills training.

Medications may also be prescribed to help with specific symptoms, such as anxiety or depression.

ADHD Treatment

Treatments for ADHD typically involve medication, behavior therapy, and educational interventions.

Medications used to treat ADHD include stimulants and non-stimulants. Behavior therapy involves teaching children how to better manage their symptoms. Educational interventions involve working with teachers to help children with ADHD learn better in school.

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent Asperger's or ADHD, given that the causes are unknown. However, early diagnosis and treatment can help minimize symptoms and improve functioning.

Below are some tips for parents of children with Asperger's or ADHD:

Summary

In summary, Asperger's and ADHD are both conditions that are diagnosed based on symptoms. There is no medical test for either condition. The causes of Asperger's and ADHD are unknown, but they are thought to be linked to problems with the wiring of the brain or neurotransmitters. There is no cure for either condition, but there are treatments that can help manage the symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment can improve symptoms and quality of life.

A Word From Verywell

If you think you or your child may have Asperger's or ADHD, it is important to talk to a doctor. These conditions can be difficult to manage on your own and there are treatments that can help. Early diagnosis and treatment is important for the best possible outcome.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."