AuDHD: A Blessing or A Curse?

What is AuDHD?

AuDHD is the identity-first term for someone who is both autistic and ADHD. Statistically, it is
estimated that between 22-83% of autistic children also have ADHD (Sokolova et al., 2017).
That same study found that approximately 30-65% of ADHD children also have significant
autistic traits (Sokolova et al., 2017). So, basically, there’s a good chance that if you are autistic
(or suspect you’re autistic or have autistic traits), you could also have ADHD, and if you know
you are an ADHDer, you there’s a good chance you might also have some autistic traits!

As someone who identifies as AuDHD, I’d like to share some of the traits and experiences that
an AuDHDer might have, and some of my personal experiences!

Autism

In Ash’s previous blog post, she outlines some traits related to autism. As a refresher, these
include:

  • Differences in communication and understanding relationships
  • “Stimming” (using movements like rocking, using fidget toys, playing with hair, picking nails, etc. to self-soothe)
  • Finding comfort in routines
  • “Special interests” (being very deeply passionate and interested in a few specific topics)
  • Sensory processing differences (being extremely or not at all reactive to different sensory inputs, such as smells, sounds, and lights).

For many people, autism is more stigmatized and less accessible to understand. During my self-
discovery process, it helped to hear other people’s real life experiences. Some examples of ways
that I experience these traits include the following:

  • I have always struggled to make friends and I hate small talk.
  • I enjoy rocking and am constantly playing with fidget/stim toys to self-soothe in stressful situations like the grocery store or in the car.
  • I feel dysregulated when I’m on vacation because of the lack of routine.
  • I have always had specific interests that I get “obsessed” with, such as Carrie Underwood when I was a teen, and autism recently! 🙂
  • Certain spaces are difficult for me to be in due to loud noises, bright lights, and crowds, such as concerts, malls, grocery stores, fairs, the car wash, etc.

ADHD

Again, there is a previous blog post about the traits of an ADHDer, but as a refresher, these are
some things you might experience if you have ADHD:

  • Craves novelty
  • Differences in ability to sustain attention in tasks or leisure activities (can be inattention or hyperfocus)
  • Differences in communication (struggle to pick up social cues due to inattention)
  • Difficulty with organization and planning
  • Easily distracted by external stimuli (can include sensory processing difficulties)
  • Mood swings or difficulty regulating emotions
  • Fidgets/”stims” when bored or in order to focus

While ADHD is generally more widely accepted and understood than autism, many people feel
that if they do not look like the “hyperactive little boy” stereotype, then they don’t have ADHD.
I learned to mask my ADHD symptoms as a small child, so although I feel restless all the time
and would prefer to be moving constantly, I would not have seemed “hyperactive” to observers.
Also, there are different diagnostic types of ADHD, and you can be an ADHDer without feeling
“hyperactive”. Here are some of the ways that these traits show up in my life:

  • On weekends, I get upset if I don’t have plans to get out of my house and do something fun and new with people.
  • I can hyperfocus on work but cannot watch a movie straight through.
  • I often have to ask someone to repeat what they said because I was thinking about something else as they were talking.
  • I struggle with time management and planning an outing, errands, or a trip.
  • Sometimes, it helps me focus to have music or TV on in the background, and other times I need earplugs to do anything.
  • I have always been told I am “too sensitive” or “too emotional” but did not know this was a trait of ADHD!
  • Using a stim toy helps me focus when doing therapy sessions, driving, or pretty much anything – right now, I’m fidgeting with my ring as I type this blog!

How they work together…

While it can seem daunting to be neurodivergent in two different ways, ADHD and autism can
actually help each other out sometimes. For example, I used to be convinced that I did not have
ADHD because I was able to focus on schoolwork, and writing this blog for instance, with no
problem. However, this is mostly due to the fact that my schoolwork and work have always been
an autistic “special interest” which helps me to hyperfocus on the task, mitigating that ADHD
trait in this realm. However, I have never been able to focus on watching a movie or TV show,
for instance, without talking, scrolling on my phone, coloring, fidgeting, or doing another task at
the same time.

Another example is planning and organization. I actually love organizing and am a very highly
structured and disciplined person because I’m autistic. However, there are certain aspects of
planning that I simply cannot do. I have always struggled with knowing how long it takes to get
somewhere or do a certain task (time management), and the ability to remember how to get
somewhere (directions). These both involve an aspect of planning that I cannot do because of the
ADHD, but if you give me 8 tasks for work to complete, I will have a structured list and plan to
complete them and they will be done immediately because of my autism.

How they can battle each other…

While sometimes it seems helpful to be AuDHD, it can also sometimes feel very frustrating, like
the two parts of my brain are battling each other. For example, while I often want plans to do on
the weekends and feel lonely and bored when I am not with people because of ADHD, I also feel
incredibly overstimulated and overwhelmed by going places and being around people which can
lead to autistic burnout. Balancing these two needs can be tricky and confusing.

Another example that an AuDHDer may relate to is sensory processing differences. Sometimes, I
feel like I need a LOT of sensory input in order to focus. In school, I used to say I had a “super
power” because I could watch crime shows while doing my English homework (that’s an ADHD
trait). However, just now, I had to turn off everything in my environment to focus on writing this
article, and if a dog started barking or a car alarm went off, I would become dysregulated and
need to use my earplugs (autistic trait).

Conclusion

Because I’m autistic, I took a deep dive into neurodivergence once I learned this about myself,
consuming everything I could possibly consume about autism and ADHD. Dr. Megan Anna Neff
and Patrick Casale are two AuDHD therapists who have a podcast called Divergent
Conversations
that explores their own experiences with AuDHD, as well as compares different
experiences of different neurotypes (an ADHDer, an autist, and an allistic person are all guests
on the show). In addition, Dr. Neff has a website called Neurodivergent Insights in which she
explores many aspects of neurodivergence, including this Venn Diagram where she compares the
similarities and differences between Autism and ADHD.

In addition to these awesome resources, AshTree Counseling Center not only has our own
podcast called I Married Your Therapist where we explore what it’s like to be neurodivergent,
but also offers neurodivergent affirming counseling by an AuDHD therapist, me! If you are a
resident of North Carolina and would like to schedule a free consultation with me, please click
on this link!

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