What Is AuDHD?

A common comorbidity or a separate diagnosis?

When I first came across the term “AuDHD,” I thought it was a typo. It wasn’t. While AuDHD is not listed in the DSM-5, the acronym has been utilized to describe the co-occurrence of ADHD and autism. Rather than the American Psychiatric Association, AuDHD was identified by the neurodiversity community. In recent years, research has engaged the construct with the inclusion of neurodivergent researchers and emphasis on its lived experience (Bertilsdotter et al., 2023).

Comorbidity or a New Diagnosis?

Although AuDHD may be new as a descriptor, the construct is not novel. The co-existence of ADHD and autism traits in the same person has been a noted phenomenon for some time. So much so that in earlier years controversy existed as to whether both conditions should ever be diagnosed in the same person (Gargo et al., 2011) given the level of overlap in impact on areas like executive functioning and attention.

As an undergraduate, I was taught that autistic folks often struggled with transitions in attention, with more sustained attention, while ADHDers would need novelty focus and do better on tasks of divided attention. As research has progressed, the picture appears more muddied. ADHD can also be associated with hyper-focus (Hupfeld et al., 2019) and autism with distractibility (Irvine et al., 2024). In addition, sensory hypersensitivities and bottom-up processing blur the image even further when exploring the relationship between autism and attention.

Today the two are often diagnosed together. Research indicates that as many as 50-70% of autistics may also meet the criteria for ADHD (Hours et al., 2022). A question could be asked if this particular comorbidity represents a separate condition on its own.

FMRI research has suggested some unique brain dynamics in individuals with co-occurrence of autism and ADHD that may be separate from the influence of either condition by itself (Watanabe and Watanabe, 2023). Although further research is needed before declaring AuDHD an official diagnosis, it is one of investigation. The findings will be interesting to see and may affirm a group of individuals whose neurodivergence doesn’t currently fall well within a listed diagnostic category.

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If AuDHD is a distinct condition, investigation would also be necessary into how interventions affect this phenotype.

Embracing Neurodiversity

Regardless of whether AuDHD is simply shorthand for the ADHD and autism combination, or a condition on its own, AuDHD individuals benefit from understanding and affirmation of neurodiversity. This may look like work toward self-acceptance and educating others on neurodivergence.

In a school or work setting, care can be taken to outline and meet diverse needs for any diagnosis. Still, as AuDHD is an emerging diagnosis, finding the most helpful accommodations becomes more individualized. We can also celebrate the strengths that AuDHD individuals bring to the world. With different ways of thinking comes innovation and fresh perspectives.

These are all things that we can start today.

Jennifer Gerlach, LCSW, is a psychotherapist based in Southern Illinois who specializes in psychosis, mood disorders, and young adult mental health.

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