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Inattention, Overactivity, And Impulsiveness In Autism Spectrum Disorder

Inattention, Overactivity, and Impulsiveness in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Many children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD or autism) display abnormal behaviors such as restlessness, poor attention span, and overactivity. They are often unable to concentrate or stay focused on tasks or activities. They find it difficult to sit still and pay attention and can be overactive/hyperactive or impulsive. Many of these symptoms are shared with children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The main features of ADHD are:


  • The child often blurts out answers even before the question has been finished.
  • Problems with turn-taking
  • Frequently interrupts conversations
  • Intrudes in conversations or games
  • Difficulty controlling emotions and may have angry outbursts


  • Easily distracted and appears not to listen to whoever is talking to them
  • Difficulty remembering and following instructions


  • Fidgets a lot and finds it hard to sit still
  • Always moving and on the go

ADHD can coexist in a child with a diagnosis of autism. Health professionals often refer to a coexisting condition as “comorbid.” Although the two conditions are treated as separate conditions, there is considerable overlap between them. According to the National Autistic Society (NAS), researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry are currently interested and are conducting a study on the differences between ASD and ADHD.

However, there are other reasons that may cause inattention, overactivity, and impulsiveness. Food intolerance and allergies are linked to hyperactivity, though they are not a direct cause. Soft drinks containing chemicals are commonly implicated in causing allergies and hyperactivity. Sugar and caffeine are stimulants that can also affect a child’s behavior. It is always worthwhile to see a doctor who specializes in food intolerances or allergies. They may advise removing certain foods, beverages, or stimulants in the child’s diet if these are suspected to trigger an allergic response or intolerance and are exacerbating the existing features of autism.

Sometimes, environmental factors can cause sensitivity to a child diagnosed with autism, such as light and sounds that can be very distracting and uncomfortable. These can cause the child to become temporarily hyperactive or disruptive. Moreover, these incidents can be logged and observed to see if there is a pattern as to when the child becomes overstimulated.

Dealing with a child with autism and also has features of ADHD can be exhausting, often the child will have sleep problems that may or may not be associated with it, along with other abnormal behaviors. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there are medications used in treating impulsivity and hyperactivity. Ritalin is a stimulant medication that is used to treat ADHD and can decrease impulsivity and hyperactivity in some children with autism, especially those at the higher end of the spectrum.


National Autistic Society. Autism.org: The differences between autism and ADHD, retrieved March 22, 2011, from http://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer/take-part-in-surveys-and-research/research

National Institute of Mental Health. Nimh.nih.gov: Autism Spectrum Disorders (Pervasive Developmental Disorders), Retrieved March 22, 2011, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/autism/complete-index.shtml#pub3 Copyright © by Special Learning Inc. All right reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, contact Special Learning Inc., at: contact@special-learning.com

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Parent Waitlist Program


November 02, 2023 | 12pm-1pm PDT

Journey to Independence

Community-based program designed to support families on waitlist

Being an RBT for me was extremely fun because where were you going to find a place where you can be completely silly without having to worry what people thought about you? This was the only job that made me feel like I could make a dramatic difference while being myself.

I also liked to be surrounded by people that had the same goals of wanting to help kids and the teamwork made the job much easier and more enjoyable.

Change and progress was the ultimate goal for our kiddos. The early intervention program was seriously only a miracle because I saw changes in the kiddos that from day one, you wouldn’t even recognize who they were.

Changes from being able to utter 3-4 words where they can only make a syllable from when they started, the behavior decreases in which kiddo that used to engage in 30-40 0 self-harm to only half, learning how to wait during games, table work where they use to swipe and drop to the floor if they had to.

My favorite was when the parents would tell us what amazing progress they were making at home. I used to tear up and felt for these parents so much because it was already difficult for them and now, they can trust and rely on ABA and the therapists knowing their goal was ours.

By Emma Rogers, BA, RBT

Mother Child
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