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Understanding AuDHD: The intersection of Autism and ADHD

Updated: Mar 8



Understanding AuDHD

AuDHD is a term that combines Autism and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). It is a community-coined term rather than one that originates from a specific academic or medical source. The use of "AuDHD" has emerged from within the neurodiversity movement and among individuals who identify as being both Autistic and ADHD. To understand the characteristics of AuDHD requires delving into how these two neurodevelopmental conditions intersect, their overlapping traits, and the unique challenges and strengths they present when occurring together. Let's break it down to better grasp what AuDHD entails.


Autism

Autism is characterized by differences in the use of communication, starting, maintaining, and understanding relationships, alongside the use of self-regulating behaviors, deep interests and passions, need for familiarity and routine, and sensory differences. It's called a "spectrum" because it includes a wide range of traits and support needs within the Autistic community.


ADHD

ADHD is marked by patterns of attention differences, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity. ADHDers possess differences in how they use and experience attention, energy, and novelty. Executive functioning is often challenged in areas such as planning, emotion regulation, working memory, organization, and processing speeds.


 

The Intersection: AuDHD

When someone has characteristics of both Autism and ADHD it can create a unique profile. Some traits of Autism and ADHD seem to overlap, while others are in conflict with each other. This intersection is informally known as AuDHD. When you find yourself in this intersection, you may experience not fully relating to or identifying with either side. You may find that your traits are a strange hybrid of the two and you've struggled to find a name for your experience. You might have also experienced showing more dominant traits within Autism or ADHD and coming to that identity long before the other. Often in this case, there is something else there that isn't explained the one label. You know there's more, but you haven't figured out what. AuDHD may be that explanation you've been searching for. Here are key aspects to understand this neurodivergent identity:


Overlapping Traits

  • Executive Functioning Issues: Both Autism and ADHD can affect executive functioning, leading to challenges with planning, organization, time management, and completing tasks.

  • Sensory Processing Sensitivities: Individuals with either neurotype may experience hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness) or hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness) to sensory input, affecting how they perceive and interact with the world.

  • Intense Focus vs. Distractibility: While ADHD is often associated with difficulty maintaining attention, both ADHD and Autism can involve hyperfocus on interests or activities.


Conflicting Traits

  • Social Interaction: Autism primarily affects social communication and interaction. While ADHDers may seek out social interaction, they might struggle with impulsivity and active listening within those interactions. Autistic individuals might find social cues and norms more challenging to navigate. An AuDHD may likely experience pieces of both.

  • Routine and Change: Autistic individuals often thrive on routine and predictability, finding comfort in sameness. Conversely, ADHDers may crave novelty and become easily bored with routine, seeking new and stimulating experiences. AuDHDers likely have periods of needing both. This is were inner conflict and confusion about "what's happening" come in to play.


The Strengths of AuDHD

The convergence of Autism and ADHD does have its strengths, especially when traits are understood and can be worked with, rather than against.

  • Intense Focus and Hyperfixation: AuDHD individuals can have the ability to hyperfocus on tasks or subjects of interest, leading to deep dives into hobbies, projects, or studies, resulting in high levels of expertise and innovation.

  • Creative Thinking: The unique neural wiring of AuDHDers often results in out-of-the-box thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills that diverge from conventional approaches, making them invaluable.

  • Empathy and Sensitivity: Despite common misconceptions, Autistic individuals often possess a deep empathy and emotional sensitivity, particularly towards topics and causes they are passionate about. This is true for ADHDers, as well.

  • Energetic Enthusiasm: The ADHD aspect of AuDHD can contribute a boundless energy and enthusiasm for pursuits that capture their interest, driving them to achieve remarkable feats. And when an Autistic person is experiencing Autistic Joy, the same can be said.


The Challenges of AuDHD

Living with an AuDHD brain is not without its challenges. The world is predominantly designed by and for neurotypical individuals, often making it an exhausting place for those with neurodivergent brains.

  • Sensory Sensitivities: Both Autism and ADHD can come with heightened sensory sensitivities that make everyday environments overwhelming. Finding coping strategies and sensory-friendly spaces is crucial.

  • Executive Functioning Difficulties: Tasks involving planning, organization, and time management can be particularly challenging. Strategies like visual aids, reminders, and structured routines can be beneficial.

  • Social Navigation: The social world can be perplexing due to the nuanced and often unspoken rules that govern interactions. Embracing one's authentic way of communicating and seeking understanding communities can make a significant difference.

  • Managing Energy Levels: The interplay between autistic burnout and ADHD-related energy fluctuations requires careful management of energy reserves through rest, pacing, and setting healthy boundaries.


 

Navigating AuDHD

Understanding and navigating AuDHD involves acknowledging the unique blend of challenges and strengths it presents:

  • Individualized Strategies: Because AuDHD encompasses a wide range of experiences, effective support and strategies must be personalized. This can include tailored educational approaches, therapies, and accommodations both at home and in work or school environments.

  • Know Oneself: Are you more ADHD dominant or Autism dominant? Has it changed overtime? Does it depend on the environment, your energy level, the people you're around, the project you're working on? What are the characteristics of your AuDHD experience? Finding the answers to these questions is a significant step in accessing healing, support, and a satisfying and joyful life.



If you are or think you might be AuDHD and would like to be assessed, start individual therapy, join a support group, or connect to other resources, please reach out.


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