ADHD and autism: differential diagnosis or overlapping traits? A selective review

  • Regina Taurines
  • Christina Schwenck
  • Eva Westerwald
  • Michael Sachse
  • Michael Siniatchkin
  • Christine FreitagEmail author
Review Article


According to DSM-IV TR and ICD-10, a diagnosis of autism or Asperger Syndrome precludes a diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, despite the different conceptualization, population-based twin studies reported symptom overlap, and a recent epidemiologically based study reported a high rate of ADHD in autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In the planned revision of the DSM-IV TR, dsm5 (, the diagnoses of autistic disorder and ADHD will not be mutually exclusive any longer. This provides the basis of more differentiated studies on overlap and distinction between both disorders. This review presents data on comorbidity rates and symptom overlap and discusses common and disorder-specific risk factors, including recent proteomic studies. Neuropsychological findings in the areas of attention, reward processing, and social cognition are then compared between both disorders, as these cognitive abilities show overlapping as well as specific impairment for one of both disorders. In addition, selective brain imaging findings are reported. Therapeutic options are summarized, and new approaches are discussed. The review concludes with a prospectus on open questions for research and clinical practice.


ADHD Autism Risk factor Reward Empathy Brain imaging Genetics Proteomics 



The study was partly supported by the EU/BMBF grant 01EW1105 to Christine Freitag.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Regina Taurines
    • 1
  • Christina Schwenck
    • 2
  • Eva Westerwald
    • 2
  • Michael Sachse
    • 2
  • Michael Siniatchkin
    • 2
  • Christine Freitag
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and PsychotherapyWürzburg UniversityWürzburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and PsychotherapyJW Goethe University Frankfurt am MainFrankfurt am MainGermany

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