ADHD and Autism Overlap – and the Struggle with Self-Care

ADHD and Autism Overlap - and Self Care - Image of folded towels stacked on a wooden stool with a bar of soap and brush laid on top.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism are distinct neurodevelopmental conditions, but they share some overlapping features. Struggles with executive function, sensory sensitivities and social communication are all. Studies estimate that 30-80% of individuals with Autism also meet the criteria for ADHD. Conversely, 20-50% of individuals with ADHD may also meet criteria for Autism. This significant overlap highlights the complex relationship between these conditions.

The overlap between ADHD and autism is never more obvious than when we look at the subject of self-care and personal hygiene. Individuals with ADHD and Autism may experience challenges with self-care due to various factors associated with their conditions.

  • Showering
  • Washing hair
  • Teeth brushing
  • Taking medication
  • Dressing
  • Social interaction
  • Appointments
  • Executive dysfunction: This core symptom of ADHD impacts planning, organisation, time management, and initiation of tasks. Starting and completing a multi-step routine like showering or brushing your teeth can be difficult due to the planning and effort involved.
  • Time blindness: Individuals with ADHD may struggle to estimate time accurately, leading to underestimating the time needed for hygiene tasks and potential delays in completing them.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Some people with ADHD may be sensitive to certain textures, sounds, or smells associated with hygiene products or routines, making them aversive or uncomfortable.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Similar to ADHD, sensory sensitivities are common in individuals with autism and can make aspects of personal hygiene overwhelming. The feeling of water, specific textures of soaps or shampoos, or even the sound of running water can be unpleasant and lead to avoidance of hygiene tasks.
  • Social communication challenges: Individuals with Autism may not readily understand the social implications of poor hygiene or the importance of maintaining it, leading to potential neglect of hygiene practices.
  • Rigidity and routines: Some individuals with autism thrive on routine and predictability. Deviating from established routines, even for personal hygiene, can be disruptive and lead to resistance or anxiety.

I particularly struggle with hair washing (though I’m lucky that my hair doesn’t need washing that often either), teeth brushing and taking my medications. I also notice that the more I am struggling; the more overwhelmed I feel; the more I start to struggle with my self-care. The mental load of having to choose a new outfit each day, means I tend to dress in the same thing day in/day out. And I also find myself withdrawing socially as I struggle to cope with the effort to be ‘social’.

It’s important to remember that these are general challenges, and not everyone with ADHD or autism will experience difficulties with personal hygiene. Additionally, the severity of these challenges can vary greatly among individuals.

If you or someone you know is struggling with personal hygiene or self-care due to ADHD or autism, it’s crucial to seek support from someone trusted. Healthcare professionals and therapists can provide guidance on developing strategies and routines tailored to an individual’s specific needs and preferences.

  • Break down routines into smaller, more manageable steps. This can make them less daunting and easier to complete. I’ll often wash my hair one night, but leave styling it till the next day.
  • Use visual aids, such as checklists or schedules, to help stay on track. I have an oversized wall planner (approx, 5ft by 10ft) that has everything I need to remember for the weeks ahead, colour coded by family member. If it’s not on the board it won’t happen!
  • Set timers to remind yourself of when to complete hygiene tasks.
  • Find hygiene products that are comfortable and pleasant to use.
  • Seek support from family, friends, or caregivers if needed. If it’s something important I know I’m likely to forget, then I’ll tend to ask my hubby or one of the kids to remind me.

Remember, with the right support and strategies, individuals with ADHD and autism can develop and maintain healthy self-care habits.

Do you struggle with self-care, or do you notice that it tends to suffer at certain times compared to others? If you have any tips please share them in the comments as I’d love to share with my readers via my socials!

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Photo Credit: Karolina Grabowska

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