Autism vs OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) vs ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

Autism, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) are disorders that share the same genetic roots and affect the same part of the brain. That’s why they are interconnected. The most obvious common feature of the three disorders is impulsivity. They are caused by disruptions in the corpus callosum, which connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

Professionals may misdiagnose what they want to make a diagnosis based on symptoms alone. Because the symptoms of all three disorders are similar to each other. At some point, it should not be forgotten that the interventions and treatments are similar to each other.



Autism vs OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)


OCD and autism are two disorders that are thought to be very similar but are actually very different from each other in many ways. Therefore, people with autism or OCD may be misdiagnosed, at a higher rate than anticipated. Because in the first place, the symptoms of the two disorders are very similar.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder while OCD is a mental disorder. While autism is a congenital disorder, an individual can develop OCD over years. For this reason, since the misdiagnosis makes it difficult to get the right treatment and support, it causes the person’s life to become more difficult and challenging. However, it should not be ignored that there may be a link between OCD and autism. Individuals with OCD are more likely to be on the autism spectrum than individuals without OCD.

As the most prominent feature, individuals with both autism and OCD exhibit repetitive behaviors. These behaviors can take many different forms. In individuals with only OCD, these behaviors are actually compulsions. These individuals do not want to keep up with these compulsions, but their brains and bodies force them to do these movements. In fact, they often want to get rid of these compulsions.

On the other hand, this is not the case with individuals with autism. They are not bothered by these repetitive behaviors. They are not even aware of this situation. These repetitive movements can even be enjoyable for them because they actually display these behaviors to comfort themselves.

Although these repetitive behaviors exhibited by both individuals with autism and individuals with OCD seem similar from the surface, we can say that their functions are different. Individuals with autism exhibit these behaviors to soothe themselves. Individuals with OCD, on the other hand, exhibit these behaviors automatically, like a ritual, and think that if they don’t, something terrible will happen to them.



Many individuals with autism have a special interest. This interest is a highly focused interest and is therefore confused with obsession. But the obsession (in clinical meaning) of individuals with OCD is quite different from the focused attention of individuals with autism. Obsessions of individuals with OCD are persistent and intrusive thoughts and behaviors. While this situation does not bother individuals with autism, it is disturbing for individuals with OCD to think or do the same thing all the time.

Both groups find it very difficult to get away from routines. While it is more of a lifestyle for individuals with autism, these routines can be used as a way to escape from their obsessions for individuals with OCD.  It is an inevitable fact that both groups experience social difficulties. These social difficulties can manifest in many ways. In addition, society points out these individuals increase their obsessions and repetitive behaviors.

Experiencing difficulties in daily functioning is the most obvious problem experienced by both individuals with autism and individuals with OCD. They have a very difficult time changing their routines and adapting when they do. They may become overwhelmed, stressed, or more excited as a result of sensory overload. There may be difficulties in executive functions as well.

Despite all these similarities, there is a very important difference between OCD and autism. According to the DSM-5 criteria, both are disorders in different groups. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder while OCD is a mental disorder. In fact, autism is not considered a disorder, only a dysfunction.

According to the DSM-5, an individual must meet certain criteria to be diagnosed with OCD. Obsessions and compulsions must have a negative impact on daily life. Obsessions and compulsions must be long-lasting. The most important cause of OCD is stress. This stress increases obsessions and compulsions, and these increasing obsessions and compulsions cause more stress. Therefore, both conditions should be taken care of during the treatment.



Repetitive behaviors in autism are not disturbing, they do not disturb the person. Individuals with autism find compulsions, rituals, and routines comforting and do not feel sad because of those, whereas individuals with OCD feel sad because of them. They think that these behaviors impair their quality of life and therefore they try to get rid of these behaviors. In autism, there is no such need at all. For individuals with autism, these behaviors can even be a source of pleasure.

We do not have much clear information about the causes of both autism and OCD. Although it is an undeniable fact that both have genetic factors, environmental factors are more effective in OCD. There is still ongoing research about these issues. Similar symptoms they have can be a challenge even for professionals, and even they can misdiagnose.

How Are Autistic Obsessive Behaviors Treated?


There are many different treatment and therapy methods for autism. There are usually two methods used for repetitive behaviors. These are drug therapy and behavioral therapy. In drug therapy, drugs containing SSRIs are prescribed. These drugs allow the secretion of serotonin. Many clinical studies have shown that drugs containing SSRIs work in individuals with autism. Behavioral therapy, on the other hand, is organized according to the age, intelligence level, cognition level, and level of autism of the individual. Speech therapy is followed by behavioral therapy in the process.

More effective results are obtained when drug therapy and behavioral therapy are followed together. When drug therapy is followed alone, it takes longer to get the desired result or no results may be obtained. Behavior-based therapies are more appropriate in order to change repetitive behaviors. However, it should not be forgotten that behavioral therapies are very difficult to follow by children on the autism spectrum.



Autism vs ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)


Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and symptoms of autism are very similar to each other. Children with both conditions may have difficulties in concentration and focusing. They are mostly impulsive and have trouble with communication. They may have problems with socialization and find it difficult to form and sustain relationships. Even though there are many symptoms that both disorders share, they are different conditions. Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that affects many areas such as language, behaviors, social interactions, and learning ability.

Autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are disorders that are accepted as inherited, however, it is still unknown which genes lead to these disorders. There is much research are done about this issue. The researchers stated that there are similarities between these disorders and these similarities may be connected to a mutation in the same genes.

Studies have shown that individuals with autism and ADHD have rare variations in evolutionarily constrained genes. And because of that these variations contribute to the biological causes of the two disorders. It has been stated that the same amount of mutations and the same genes in children with autism and ADHD indicate that the same genetic mechanisms are present in these disorders.

There are several ways to tell the difference between children with autism and ADHD. You need to pay attention to your child’s focus time and concentration. Children with autism find it challenging to pay attention to things they don’t like, like reading books or doing puzzles. And they can easily focus on things they like. Children with ADHD, on the other hand, often dislike and avoid the things they need to concentrate on.

You should also be aware of how your child communicates with other people around them or with you. Although children in both cases have trouble interacting with others, children with autism may be less social than others. They may talk nonsense. Their thoughts would be meaningless. They may find it difficult to find meaningful objects around them. Difficulty in making eye contact is observed in children with autism, but not in children with ADHD.



It is very common for children with ADHD is that they may talk without any break between sentences and topics. When someone else starts to speak or interrupts their speech, they are more likely to convert the conversation into a monolog. On the other hand, some children on the spectrum talk for a very long time only about a topic they are interested in.

A child on the autism spectrum usually likes orders and rituals, but a child with ADHD may not like it, even if they are getting support for it. A child on the spectrum may have a strong preference for eating the same food or may become overly attached to a specific object. They can be very stressed or anxious even when there is a slight change in their routines. On the contrary, a child with ADHD does not like to do the same task over and over again or for a long time.

If there is a little suspicion about your child has ADHD or autism, you should consult a professional about what tests you will need. There is no single way to tell whether your child has one of these conditions or both of them together. So, it will be a good starting point to consult a pediatrician, who can refer you to a professional who is an expert in these conditions.

In order to diagnose ADHD, professionals need feedback from primary caregivers such as parents, grandparents, or teachers. It is important to understand the pattern of behavior that the child exhibits. This is also important in order to eliminate other possible causes of the symptoms.

A diagnosis of autism begins with a questionnaire that parents need to answer. This questionnaire is mostly about the child’s behaviors. Other tests and tools may include interviews and observed activities, as well as more questionnaires and checklists.

It can be difficult even for professionals to distinguish between autism and ADHD, but it is also crucial in terms of following the proper and right treatment method. There is no specific treatment method to deal with ADHD. Young children begin with behavioral therapy and if symptoms do not improve sufficiently, drug therapy may be followed. Or, drug therapy can be used to alleviate the side effects. Older children usually follow both treatment methods. ADHD symptoms and treatment can change over time. It can be rearranged according to the severity of the symptoms. Drug therapy by itself cannot cure autism, but it can make it easier to manage related symptoms, such as difficulty focusing or having high energy.



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