Science – ADHD vs autism

ADHD vs autism

Neurodivergent insights is a website by Dr Neff, who is a clinical psychologist and is autistic.     She has written an article that sets out the overlapping characteristics and the differences clearly.     Until recently, if a patient had with symptoms of both conditions, the doctor had to choose either one or the other.     That was until the introduction of DSM-5* in 2013.     Click icon for her article.

Although there is a significant proportion that are diagnosed with both now there are also quite a lot that do not reach the threshold for one of the conditions, yet still have significant indicators for it.     She suspects that “pure ADHD” or “pure Autism” is the exception, not the norm.

Disorganised thoughts

Why do people on the autistic spectrum tend to have disorganized thoughts?     Embrace Autism has an article that seeks to explain what science can tell us.     Autistic brains have less synaptic pruning than neurotypical ones.    There are more dense local synaptic connections and fewer long range connections than the typical brain.    This results in overstimulation in local areas of the brain.    It means that autistic brains having more ineffective activity and excessive sensory sensitivity.

On the other hand, these complex synaptic connections give the autistic brain increased associative ability and creative thinking.     Click icon for more thorough explanations.

What causes autism?

The science is not clear or simple and research is still at an early stage.

  • The NHS has a page about the causes of Autism.
  • The National autistic society covers the ground quite well and contains some insightful comments.     It is also very easy to read.      See causes
  • An associate professor in Georgia, USA, has produced a video presentation about the search for causes of autism.       Click play button to watch.      It lasts 2 minutes. 

The Geek Syndrome

Is there a connection between geekiness and autism?      Could Silicon Valley hold the key?      Steve Silberman considers the question in The Geek Sydrome.

Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen thinks scientists and engineers could be more likely to have a child with autism, though other scientists say that this has not yet been proved.     The article sets out the science in an accessible way.

A Guardian journalist states that IT companies actively recruit an autistic workforce expecting to find people who are technically very competent with good concentration skills.
He also shows how computers can be a mixed blessing.

Why have autism diagnoses soared?

There has been a big increase in diagnoses since the 1990’s.      Why is that?.      Here is one paediatrician’s explanation.


Autistica is a UK based research charity.      Click icon for their website and scroll down to see their current research projects.     Their research priorities are about improving life for people on the spectrum.

See also Neurodiversity about priorities, e.g. Steve Silberman.

  Is ADHD a Spectrum Disorder?

New research suggests that ADHD has a number of subgroups.     All of them are associated with a weak connection in the brain’s neural networks.     This article describes how, according to Joel Nigg, Ph.D, they affect children with ADHD and how the brain matures.


Oxford associate professor has a new interpretation of autism distinguishing it from alexithymia.     He says that autistic people can have empathy and non-autistic people can lack it.     He also says that the two conditions are completely independent of each other.     Click icon for article.

Key terms

Although not the most commonly used manual in the UK, DSM-5* is likely to have a significant influence on the next edition of the ICD.    The ICD is the only assessment manual that officially applies in the NHS in England.Diagnosis heading

Phenotype refers to an individual’s observable traits, such as height, eye color and blood type. A person’s phenotype is determined by both their genomic makeup (genotype) and environmental factors.

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