Understanding the Overlap Autism, ADHD, and Sensory Issues

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In a world where knowledge about neurodevelopmental and neurological disorders is expanding, it's not uncommon to hear terms like Autism, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) mentioned in the same breath. Though each is a distinct condition with its own set of challenges and characteristics, there is a significant overlap among them. Understanding this intersection is crucial for parents, educators, and caregivers to provide the right support for individuals facing these challenges.


Autism: A Spectrum of Experiences

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder / Condition (ASD/C), is characterised by challenges with social interactions, communication, and repetitive behaviours. But what many don't realise is that sensory processing issues - especially sensitivities frequently accompany autism. These can range from an aversion to certain textures or sounds to seeking out specific sensory experiences.


For instance, a child with autism might be overwhelmed by the buzz of fluorescent lights or the hum of a crowd, while another might find solace in the rhythmic motion of a swinging door.


ADHD: Beyond the Hyperactivity

When we think of ADHD, images of restless children, unable to sit still, often come to mind. However, ADHD is more than just hyperactivity. It encompasses a range of behaviours, including impulsiveness, inattention, and yes, sensory challenges. Sometimes the behaviours are purely due to sensory processing and so with treatment can be remarkably changed. At other times, it's different parts of the brain that are affected and are not those directly involved with sensory processing. 


A child with ADHD might be hypersensitive to tactile sensations, becoming distracted by the tag in their shirt or the seam in their socks. Or they might have a high threshold for sensory input, leading them to seek out intense experiences like spinning or jumping.


Sensory Processing Disorder: The Sensory Angle


SPD is all about the way the nervous system receives and responds to sensory information. Someone with SPD might over-respond, under-respond, or crave sensory input. They may have trouble perceiving the detail in sights, sounds, touch or movement and or be clumsy or have low stamina. While it's a disorder in its own right, its symptoms are the same those seen in autism and ADHD.


For example, a child with SPD might be as averse to loud noises or bright lights as a child with autism. They might also seek sensory experiences or be constantly on the move, similar to a child with ADHD.


The Intersection: Where They Meet


So, how do these conditions intersect?


Shared Symptoms: Both children with autism and those with ADHD might exhibit sensory-seeking behaviours, from rocking to hand-flapping.

Diagnostic Challenges: Due to the overlap in symptoms, it can sometimes be challenging to discern where one condition ends and another begins. A child might be diagnosed with ADHD due to their hyperactivity when they're also on the autism spectrum or have SPD.

Comorbidity: Many individuals don't just fit into one neat box. It's not uncommon for a child to have both ADHD and autism or SPD and ADHD - because it's the sensory processing that is the cause of the issues hence presenting the exact same behaviours.


Supporting the Overlap


Recognising the overlap is only the first step. The next is ensuring that these individuals have a proper assessment and treatment of their sensory needs so that the sensory underpinnings are well addressed. Once the sensory needs are seen to, then the focus can move onto the more specific nature of ASC or ADHD and receive the support they need. This often means a multi-faceted approach:


Personalised Interventions: 


Each individual is unique. What works for one child with autism might not work for another with ADHD. Tailored strategies, from sensory diets to behavioural interventions, can make a world of difference.

Education: For caregivers and educators, understanding the nuances of each condition allows for better support in both academic and social settings.

Community and Understanding: Building a community that's informed and understanding can help reduce the stigma attached to these conditions.




The world of neurodevelopmental and neurological disorders can be complex and intertwined. But by understanding the overlap among conditions like Autism, ADHD, and SPD, we can ensure that every individual gets the support, love, and understanding they deserve.


To get a proper assessment, treatment and understanding - do consider the trademarked Sensory Super System to master any sensory needs.



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