When Being Autistic Masks ADHD
It was a long road to finding out I was autistic. Along the way I had to overcome my own internalised misconceptions about what autism was. But even when I’d amassed a solid body of evidence that I was autistic, there was plenty that pointed in the other direction.
One of the diagnostic criterion for autism is ‘restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour.’ This can encompass a broad range of traits but is manifested in popular consciousness as an unwavering need for sameness and routine.
I’m hopeless with routines. I rarely live the same day twice. Even if I’m doing the same things, I’ll find some way to mix it up. I’m good at planning my day but no so good at sticking to the plan. Or I’ll make a list of things I need to do but lucky dip the order in which they get done. It’s a long way from having to do the same things the same way at the same time.
I don’t have the trademark autistic palette that finds comfort in a small range of bland foods. Instead, I need variety and crave intense flavours. I’m always up for trying something new. Sure, I have my go-to meals but this is mainly when I don’t have the bandwidth to conjour something interesting.
And then there’s the time that I booked a three-month solo round the world trip on a whim. Each day was an adventure and I would wake up excited about where it would take me; the abundance of new places, ideas and sensations to discover. It was exhilarating and I gave routine and predictability the middle finger.
Seeking novelty and new stimulating sensations while throwing caution to the wind doesn’t sound like someone with autism. But it does sound a lot like someone with ADHD. Is it possible to have both these seemingly contradictory conditions? With studies estimating up to 80% of autistic people also have ADHD, it’s more than possible, it’s quite probable.
When I was assessed for autism, I was also assessed for ADHD but it was dismissed fairly readily. I recall a brief discussion about how I seemed to have a handle on my executive function. I had systems for keeping things under control: calendars, lists, notebooks and put a lot of energy into implementing them.