Autism and ADHD: Overlapping and discriminating symptoms

Susan Dickerson Mayes, Susan L. Calhoun, Rebecca D. Mayes, Sarah Molitoris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

196 Scopus citations


Children with ADHD and autism have some similar features, complicating a differential diagnosis. The purpose of our study was to determine the degree to which core ADHD and autistic symptoms overlap in and discriminate between children 2-16 years of age with autism and ADHD. Our study demonstrated that 847 children with autism were easily distinguished from 158 children with ADHD. All children with autism had 15 or more of the 30 Checklist for Autism Spectrum Disorder symptoms (mean 22), and none of the children with ADHD did (mean 4). Three of the symptoms were present only in children with autism. Almost all 30 symptoms were found in over half of the children with autism, whereas none were present in the majority of children with ADHD-Inattentive type (ADHD-I) or in children with ADHD-Combined type (ADHD-C) without comorbid oppositional-defiant disorder. In contrast, ADHD symptoms were common in autism. Children with low and high functioning autism and ADHD-C did not differ on maternal ratings of attention deficit, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. For children with normal intelligence, nonsignificant differences were found between children with autism, ADHD-C, and ADHD-I on neuropsychological tests including measures of attention, working memory, processing speed, and graphomotor skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-285
Number of pages9
JournalResearch in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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