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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

Receiving an ADHD Diagnosis in Addition to Autism

I was recently diagnosed by a psychologist with autism and ADHD-hyperactive type.


I already knew I was autistic. That was no surprise. In fact, I was more worried the psychologist would say I wasn’t autistic. What would I do then?


Autistic art therapist shares an illustration of a person's face with an expression of confusion.
"Wait, what?" Illustration by Jackie Schuld

Luckily, I didn’t have to figure that out. The psychologist said I was correct.


What I didn’t know was ADHD.


I know many autistics who are also ADHD. There’s even a lovely term for it: AuDHD. And yet, I never considered myself for it.


ADHD gets thrown around so much that I didn’t want to consider it. Furthermore, even if I did identify with a few characteristics that ADHD individuals describe, I felt like I had found work-arounds and strategies for any challenges I encountered.


This wasn’t the case for autism. Prior to learning I was autistic, I deeply struggled with my mind and emotions. There were many challenges I encountered for which I couldn’t find strategies. Learning I was autistic was the key piece of information I needed. It helped me see my brain was not broken, but just different. Through learning HOW it is different, I’ve been able to learn how to work with it better. Furthermore, I’ve also been able to understand WHY I can’t work with it in other moments (like when I hit sensory overload or a nervous system meltdown).


This is the power of labels. They provide understanding and free us from shame.


So let me get back to ADHD.


What am I supposed to do with this label? I don’t feel I NEED it. And yet, here it is.


I asked the psychologist why she chose ADHD for me. She mentioned my hyperactive mind, such as my constellation thinking and racing thoughts. She also noted my cadence of speech (it frequently changes).


I thought these things were part of being autistic. She explained that autism is moreso having a singular thought and being able to hyperfocus on it. It is the ADHD that is multiple thoughts.


My singular/multi-thought thinking brain needed time to process this.


As an autistic person, I like things to be clear. I like to understand them fully. I do not understand this fully and I do NOT like that.


I asked the psychologist if she could point me to written articles or books on the interplay between autism and ADHD so I could understand more.


She had nothing to point me toward, and noted that is why she is writing a book. I’m glad she is writing a book, but I also hate that there is nothing in writing now.


And yet, this is also what I love about the neurodivergence movement. It is a quickly developing and evolving field being led by neurodivergents. We’re getting to define ourselves for ourselves.


That also means my psychologist could be wrong. As she’s advancing new theories, there’s no DSM manual description of what it looks like when someone has both autism and ADHD. There’s no scientific study. She’s doing the best with the knowledge and experience she has to chart new territory.


I, and other neurodivergent people, are doing the same. We’re doing our best to make sense of it all.


I am very sure that within 6 months time, after I have scoured every resource I can find (for I am sure they are out there, even if my psychologist hasn’t found them), a future essay I write about being Autistic and ADHD will be vastly different than this one.

That is both an exciting thing and a slightly terrifying thing. It means being willing to accept that I could be wrong, that things are murky, and that my understanding is ever-evolving.


That’s a hard thing to wrap my autistic mind around, but maybe my ADHD mind can help get me there.

 

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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