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  • Writer's pictureDr. Amanda Neal

Guide to diagnoses in adolescence: Autism, OCD, and ADHD (Part 2)


Adolescence is a critical period for the identification and diagnosis of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). These conditions share some overlapping features, making accurate diagnosis essential. Understanding some of the basics in these three commonly co-occurring disorders is an important first step in getting your adolescent the therapeutic help they might need.

teenager with autism

Today, let's talk about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

The diagnosis of ADHD in adolescents is based on criteria that include the following:

- Inattention: Adolescents with ADHD may have difficulty sustaining attention, organizing tasks, and following through with instructions or assignments. They often make careless mistakes and are prone to losing items.

- Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Hyperactivity is characterized by fidgeting, restlessness, and difficulty remaining seated in appropriate situations. Impulsivity manifests as hasty actions and decision-making without considering the consequences.

- Onset and Persistence: To diagnose ADHD, symptoms must be present before the age of 12, and there should be evidence of impairment in more than one setting, such as school and home.

Differences from Autism:

Attention and focus! ADHD and ASD exhibit differences in emphasis and manifestation. ADHD is characterized by a core difficulty in sustaining attention, staying organized, and managing impulses. The challenges with attention are central to the diagnosis, and individuals with ADHD may struggle with tasks that require prolonged focus.

In contrast, while attention-related challenges can be present in ASD, they are not the primary diagnostic criteria. Attention issues in ASD are often associated with difficulties in shifting attention between tasks, hyperfocusing on specific interests, or being selectively focused on particular aspects of the environment. Unlike ADHD, where attention difficulties are a central aspect, in ASD, attention-related challenges are just one facet of the broader spectrum of symptoms, which includes social communication difficulties and repetitive behaviors.

Similarities to Autism and OCD:

- Impulsivity and Inattention: Both ADHD and OCD may involve difficulties with impulse control and attention regulation. In ADHD, these symptoms are present across various settings, while in OCD, they often revolve around specific obsessions and compulsions.

- Social Challenges:  Adolescents with both ADHD and ASD may experience social difficulties, but the nature of these challenges is different. In ADHD, social difficulties often stem from impulsivity, inattention, or hyperactivity. In ASD, challenges are more related to deficits in social communication, understanding social cues, and forming relationships.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of our ASD, OCD, and ADHD series!


Dr. Amanda Neal
Dr. Amanda Neal

Dr. Amanda Neal, Psy.D. is a postdoctoral clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy and testing for adolescents, adults, and parents in Pleasantville and virtually in New York State. She specializes in the assessment and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders, Attention Deficit Disorders, Obsessive Compulsive DIsorder, and Anxiety Spectrum Disorders.

Learn more about Dr. Neal at

(914) 488-4343


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