ADHD Treatment For Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism and ADHD are different developmental disorders, but they can have certain common symptoms. For example, children with autism may struggle with impulsivity and have problems in school and relationships— and these same symptoms can be shared by children with ADHD. A common misunderstanding is that teens with autism usually also have ADHD. While this is common occurrence, sometimes signs of ADHD are better understood with a single diagnosis of autism. It all depends on the individual. Leading residential treatment centers for teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder also address common co-occurring disorders, like ADHD, by taking a holistic approach that focuses on the overall wellbeing and confidence of teens.
The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.
What are Signs of ADHD in Teens on the Autism Spectrum?
There is no one-size-fits-all definition of attention issues. They are better understood as a spectrum of symptoms across multiple categories, similar to our understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Signs and symptoms of attention issues associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder typically fall in at least one of the following categories:
- Easily distracted
- Daydreaming constantly
- Failure to follow directions
- Easily bored
- Losing things
- Trouble understanding new ideas
- Doesn’t listen when spoken to
- Constantly interrupts people
- Can’t hold back emotions
- Frustrated easily and impatient
- Makes inappropriate comments
- Can’t wait for their turn
- Not thinking of the consequences of their actions
- Difficulty sleeping
- Can’t sit still
- Appears restless
- Takes risks
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Is ADHD a Co-Occurring Problem or a Symptom of Autism Spectrum Disorder?
For some teens who had previously been diagnosed with multiple other mental health struggles, recognizing that they might be on the spectrum narrows down the number of accurate diagnoses. However, it is still possible and not uncommon for a teen to be diagnosed with both autism and ADHD. Recent research also places ADHD into a “neurodevelopmental disorder” category rather than considering it a learning disability, which further explains the overlap in executive functioning issues between the disorders.
Psychologists have expressed concerns that as autism-related inattentiveness is often confused with ADHD, many children who would benefit from autism treatment do not get the support they needed, if they have not displayed obvious traits of autism across other categories. Reframing autism as a spectrum disorder has helped psychologists at Seven Stars RTC understand that there is not a single profile of someone with autism and that many people on the spectrum are vulnerable to other mental health struggles that aren’t necessarily directly related to ASD.
Many kids with autism do have attention issues, but the nature of the problem may be different than in ADHD. It’s difficult to get the attention of children with ADHD or to keep them on task. In contrast, children with autism have trouble shifting attention away from their narrow range of interests.
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How Does Seven Stars RTC Support Teens with ADHD?
Seven Stars is a residential treatment program for teens of all genders ages 13-18 that are on the autism spectrum. Some of the most common themes among the students we work with are ADHD, academic struggles, and difficulty with self-regulation. Seven Stars utilizes principles of positive psychology to help these teens discover new passions and truly learn the extent of their abilities. Our staff has years of experience working with a neurodiverse population and uses a variety of evidence-based therapies to help teens become more confident and successful.
Seven Stars RTC takes an individualized approach to therapy and academics to meet the diverse needs of our student population. With rolling admissions, students are able to earn credits through an accredited school and learn at their own pace. During their time on campus, we focus on rebuilding the confidence of students within a classroom setting and creating opportunities for the improvement of study skills and social skills.
During off-campus adventure therapy, students experience fun and exciting activities designed to offer moments of reflection and confidence-building. Many teens with ADHD struggle with synching their thoughts with their actions, so physical activity helps them match their energy and learn creative ways to self-regulate. Students develop a stronger sense of community while participating in activities such as skiing, backpacking, and rock climbing. Every aspect of our program is designed to foster personal growth in teens.