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What happens when ADHD and Autism come together?

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History behind the AuDHD diagnosis

A mere decade ago, autism and ADHD were deemed mutually exclusive. Yet, recent years have overturned this notion entirely. Presently, certain experts argue that the simultaneous presence of both conditions is not only feasible but also common. 

A study conducted by Duke University researchers revealed that as many as half of individuals diagnosed with autism display symptoms of ADHD, with autistic traits appearing in two-thirds of those with ADHD.

Online, the concept of autism and ADHD coexistence is widely acknowledged, giving rise to the label "AuDHD."

"AUdHD" is a blend of "autism" and "ADHD," coined to describe individuals who exhibit characteristics of both conditions simultaneously.

“Having this combination is way more common than you think. Although a lot of people remain undiagnosed one way or the other, and I think this is because one of the aspects of having either Autism or ADHD is that they appear to mask or hide each other. (This is not to be confused with either ADHD or ASD masking). “ - says Samantha Stein, a British YouTuber in her “How my ADHD hides my autism” video.

Certain critics tend to label ADHD, and now autism, as trendy diagnoses, dismissing them as misguided explanations for life's challenges. Unfortunately, it's likely that the AuDHD term will face similar criticism. To understand why this is wrong, we need to first know what autism and ADHD are. Both Autism and ADHD are lifelong conditions affecting thinking, perception, and social interaction. They're recognised as disabilities, not mental illnesses to be “cured” however the knock-on effects can lead to mental illness. 

How is Autism characterised?

Despite common misunderstanding, autism isn't synonymous with lower intelligence and only about half of autistic individuals also have an intellectual disability. According to the National Autistic Society, autism is characterised by social challenges, repetitive behaviours, over- or under-sensitivity to surroundings and highly focused interests.

How is ADHD characterised?

ADHD isn't fully understood. However there’s evidence that it involves an imbalance of brain chemicals like dopamine, affecting motivation, focus, and impulse control. ADHD impacts individuals to varying extents. Many describe their lives as affected by their brain's efforts to regulate chemical imbalances. They seek dopamine spikes through various means including food, sex, internet, hobbies etc.

“Do you also feel like a slave to your desires?” - writes an anonymous user on Reddit.

What happens with ADHD and Autism come together?

When autism combines with ADHD, it creates a unique blend, as described by individuals who experience both conditions. Occasionally, the conditions oppose each other; sometimes, they work together. There's no precise 50/50 division between them. - explains Neurodevelopmental Psychiatrist (ASD & ADHD), Dr Khurram Sadiq. According to experts and many people with AuDHDers, a common underlying factor in both external and internal chaos is a profound sense of shame, coupled with the quiet acknowledgment that their life's potential is not being realised. In his Ted Talk, “When Order and Anarchy Live Together”, Dr Sadiq describes the dualities of the condition: “Silence v noise; structure v chaos; repetition v novelty; caution v risk-taking …”. The two conditions often mask each other, and therefore diagnosis is challenging.

Even after obtaining a proper dual diagnosis, complications may still arise.

While ADHD can be effectively managed with medication and behavioural coaching, some autistic individuals may have adverse reactions to these medications. Another interesting aspect of AuDHD treatment is that in certain instances, it's only after calming someone's ADHD symptoms that their autism traits become more noticeable. This often leads individuals to recognise their autistic characteristics for the first time, potentially explaining why self-reported autism rates closely mirror those of ADHD.

When naysayers argue that we are in the midst of an overdiagnosis epidemic, charities often point them to the statistics on suicide.

A study of over 50,000 individuals revealed that AuDHDers face a higher risk of suicide compared to those with only autism or ADHD.

For those in question, criticism about over-labelling is the least of their concerns. AuDHDers have said that being diagnosed and having a label that actually made sense and encompassed their experience was liberating.

“I already thought that I was weird and broken. So having a label that actually made sense and encompassed my experience was so liberating.” - says Charli Clement, an activist, speaker, writer, creator and Lived Experience Expert.

At Mattr, we’re on a mission to create a more accessible and inclusive dating environment. Our  dating app is designed in a way that is safe for ADHD and Autistic individuals to use. We believe that everyone deserves a meaningful connection, no Mattr the brain type.
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