Young boy wearing mask and holding basketball looks out of the window by himself to avoid social interaction.

If you are a parent, you know how quickly your little one grows up. From first steps and first words to all the moments in between, it is gratifying to watch your child grow into each phase of their lives. Within the first five years or so, you may start to notice the quirks and traits that are unique to your child, the things that make them, well…them. During this developmental phase, you may also take note of new traits or behaviors that result from new settings, such as school or other social situations. Some children are labeled as shy or outgoing, but as we learn more about neurodevelopmental disorders and other conditions, we see that specific symptoms may indicate something more serious. For example, if your child is uncomfortable or shy in social situations, it could be more than just shyness– especially if other behaviors are present. Struggling with social interactions could be a symptom of a condition that may require treatment such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). On the other hand, maybe it is simply shyness as your child adapts to a new environment. Either way, it’s important for parents to understand the differences between each condition.

Today, we will discuss everything you need to know about autism, ADHD, and social anxiety in children.

What is ADHD?

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder or as most people refer to it, ADHD, is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines ADHD as a disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. Most children diagnosed with ADHD are usually diagnosed at an early age when it becomes evident that their behavior is noticeably different from other children in their age group. Early signs can include restlessness, difficulty making eye contact, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and difficulty focusing or paying attention to things. ADHD can be treated with medication and behavioral therapy options.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior in children and adults. Autism, like ADHD, can be diagnosed at any age, but it is also categorized as a developmental disorder because signs typically appear in early childhood. Signs or symptoms of Autism can begin as early as 1 to 2 years of age and are usually noticed when a child experiences a delay in reaching developmental milestones like speaking, going to the bathroom, socializing, etc. Early signs of ASD can include social interaction and communication difficulties, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors - lack of eye contact, overfocusing, no response when a relative is speaking, and picky eating.

ADHD and Autism often are misdiagnosed because of the overlapping symptoms present in each. When looked at individually, the definitions of these two terms are distinguishable. Still, when parents are noticing behavior in their young children, the behavior can seem similar and might even lead to an improper diagnosis or treatment option. Children diagnosed with both disorders tend to have high levels of inattention, signs of impulsivity, and forms of hyperactivity, so it can be difficult to tell the difference.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

The term social anxiety is often thrown around to describe discomfort in social settings, and although that is partially true, there is much more to understand about the disorder. With SAD, individuals may feel extreme anxiety, self-consciousness, and embarrassment over everyday interactions because they fear being scrutinized or judged negatively by others. This fear can affect work, school, and other daily activities for those diagnosed with the disorder. Social anxiety disorder is more common in older children and teenagers, and that is why it is imperative to understand the differences between the three disorders that we are discussing today.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the most common signs or symptoms of the disorder include:

  • Blushing, sweating, or trembling
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Feelings of “mind going blank,”
  • Difficulty making eye contact
  • Feelings of self-consciousness or fear that people will judge them negatively
  • May avoid places where there are other people

Understanding The Differences

When looking at all three disorders, the main similarity involves social interaction difficulties. However, several key factors distinguish each disorder when looked at more closely. One of the most significant differences between ASD, ADHD and social anxiety is how they will continue to impact the rest of their lives. ADHD and social anxiety can be treated with medication and behavioral therapies; there have even been studies that show an improvement in ADHD symptoms using omega-3s such as fish oil. On the other hand, there are limited medication options for treating ASD. One of the most effective ways parents have reported seeing improvements in their children with ASD is through nutritional intervention using products like Simple Spectrum Supplement.

If you want to know more about the signs of each disorder and whether or not your child may be exhibiting symptoms, it’s crucial that you talk with your family physician as soon as you start noticing early signs.