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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

AuDHD: Why is it So Hard To Understand Combined Autism and ADHD?

In November 2022, I was diagnosed with autism and ADHD.


I already knew I was autistic. That was no surprise. I’d spent the prior years learning about autism after my therapist suggested I might be autistic. I learned so much that I tailored my therapy private practice to help newly identified autistics.


So I understood autism and I understood it extremely well. Yes, this took lots of effort on my own. Reading through lots of books, taking therapy courses, listening to podcasts, reading studies, and more. As I began to work with more and more autistic clients, I also began to learn from them.


Autistic art therapist Jackie Schuld shares a blue abstract acrylic painting of many drip lines
"Unclear" Abstract Acrylic Painting by Jackie Schuld

So when the psychologist officially diagnosed me with autism, I was not surprised. I was surprised to hear about ADHD.


I asked if she could explain the difference between the two and why I was also being diagnosed with ADHD. She explained that ADHD in women often presents as a hyperactive mind that thinks many things at once. In contrast, she explained that autism is when your brain latches onto solely one thing.


I knew too much about autism for this explanation to be sufficient. I know many autistic people who often experience many thoughts, but can also deeply focus. Did this mean they were all ADHD as well?


I understood it wasn’t her role to educate me to the level I needed, so I asked if she could refer me to any resources, such as articles, books, or research. She said that there unfortunately wasn’t information out there, so she was in the process of writing a book.


I’m happy she’s doing that, but that doesn’t help me now. One thing about an autistic mind is that it wants clarity NOW.


So I turned to where I normally do, searching for books. I had a surprisingly difficult time finding any for Autism and ADHD. I reached out to my therapist and professional networks, and no one could recommend books that explain what is autism, what is ADHD, and what does it look like when someone is diagnosed with both?


I widened my net farther and asked for webinars or continuing education classes. Still crickets.


The only thing I can find thus far are simple articles (like this one provided by CHADD: https://chadd.org/about-adhd/adhd-and-autism-spectrum-disorder/) or some research articles that I am still working my way through.


So why do I share such an essay as I’m in the middle of figuring it out? Because I am a mental health therapist and if it is this difficult for ME to find sufficient education on the topic, I cannot imagine how difficult and frustrating it must be for others.


So what is going on here? Why is there a lack of clarity on the matter?


For starters, it’s only within the past 10 years that a person can be diagnosed with both ADHD and autism in the US. In the mental health system, the standard for mental health diagnosis is the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM). Prior to 2013, the DSM wouldn’t allow diagnoses of both. They were mutually exclusive.


So being diagnosed with both is a new thing.


Furthermore, the neurodiversity movement is rapidly expanding our understanding of autism and ADHD. Neurodiverse people are finally getting to define their experiences for themselves. More and more people are speaking up, resulting in more and more information. I call it the Autistic Awakening, but maybe it should be called the AuDHD Awakening too.


The point is, everything is so new that there is very little science to back up the claims people are making. We are still in the explosion phase of theories and experiences. We need all of these things so we can then develop studies that go in helpful directions (as opposed to studies about how to “cure” autism).


So it seems like for now, we’re all going to have to deal with a little ambiguity. Which as an autistic, I hate.


So you better bet I’ll keep digging, finding patterns and explanations, and stringing them together for my own clarity.


As I do, I’ll be sharing it here. Because no one deserves to be diagnosed with something that there isn’t even sufficient educational material to understand.

 

Thank you for reading. If you’d like to read more, sign up for my FUNletter. If you would like to explore your autistic identity with an autistic therapist, you can learn more about my therapy services here.

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