What is ADHD and autism?
If you are already living with ASD/ADHD you are likely very familiar with these conditions already, so we've put all of our information in these drop-down sections for you to scroll past if you'd prefer.
What is autism?
Autism, which is also known as autistic spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a developmental condition that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioural challenges.
It is common for the symptoms of ASD to present around the age of 2-3 years old, where children can regress and lose previously learned skills. However, symptoms can present earlier than this.
There are no cases of anyone developing ASD later in life, although many do not receive a diagnosis until they are well into adulthood.
It is important to note that ASD is not an illness or disease. It is more that the brain has a different way of working.
Autism is a spectrum. This means people's experience of autism can be very different to another's - it differs from person to person both in severity and combinations of symptoms. There is a vast range of abilities and characteristics and symptoms can also change over time.
The support that a person with ASD needs varies immeasurably. Some autistic people require little or no support, whereas some require 24/7 support and supervision.
4 main severe autistic traits:
1) Social communication challenges. There are a number of communication issues that can make life extremely difficult for those with ASD. Eye contact, facial expressions and tone of voice can cause difficulties. It is often the case that people with autism may not be able to speak at all, In fact, about a third of autism sufferers are non-verbal.
2) Sensory dysfunction. Some people with autism are extremely sensitive to light, sound, touch, taste, or smell. On the flip side, it may be that they are not sensitive enough to these elements, which can be a health risk. This can be extremely distressing for
3) Repetitive behaviours. Symptoms of this kind can include rocking, flapping arms, screaming, moaning and slamming doors. These behaviours can appear aggressive and can be extreme. It can also include ritualist behaviours that can cause great distress and anxiety if not adhered to. ASD can also result in irritability, aggression and self-injury.
4) Cognitive issues. Whilst many people with autism can have very high IQs, it is common for people with severe autism to have lower IQs and significant intellectual delays.
On the other end of the scale. There are many who have a milder form of ASD who are able to function very well. The variation of how autism manifests is, again, extremely vast. It may not be possible to tell if someone with mild symptoms has autism, and in fact, they may not even know this themselves.
Typical traits of mild autism
1) Social Skills. A person with mild ASD symptoms may find it difficult to develop and maintain relationships. They may find social situations awkward or stressful. Eye contact may be an issue, and personal space. They may have trouble interpreting facial expressions, body language, or social cues. Routines can be very important and can induce anxiety if the routine is disturbed.
2) Communication. Some people may find it difficult to express feelings or find it hard to understand what other people are thinking or feeling. People with autism may appear blunt, or rude, unintentionally. People with ASD may struggle to understand some humour - especially sarcasm - as there can be a tendency to take things very literally.
Special autistic abilities
You may well have heard of children or adults who struggle with ASD quite severely but have amazing abilities in other areas. These are not just areas they are quite skilled in, but areas in which they have extraordinary abilities.
These people are known as savants. You don't have to be autistic to be a savant, but the number of savants with autism is significantly higher than the number of savants without autism.
Moreover, although it is more common for savants to be people with severe ASD, it can also be attributed to those with mild symptoms. This is rare.
4 examples of the extraordinary things savants can do:
1) Memory. Some people can memorise whole books word for word after a quick glance. Or paint whole landscapes after seeing them just for a moment.
2) Math skills. Some people are able to extraordinary math skills. For example, they may be able to tell you what day of the week November 17th, 1905 was. This could even extend to the phase of the moon. One case study was a man who described numbers as having 'their own unique shapes, colour, texture and feel. He could "see" the result of a math calculation, and he could "sense" whether a number was prime'.
3) Musical skills. Some people can pick up an instrument and play them instantly, to an extremely high standard the first time they pick it up!
4) Language skills. There are some people who are able to translate foreign languages extremely easily and quickly. One case report talks of a savant man who could already speak 11 languages. He was challenged by Channel 5 to learn Icelandic in a week. This was a TV broadcast whereby, sure enough, 7 days later he was successfully interviewed in Icelandic.
What is ADHD?
ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD is referred to in various ways, a condition, a disability, a mental health disorder, a behavioural disorder, a neuro-developmental disorder.. the list goes on.... so you can already get an idea of the complications people may face in diagnoses and support.
Like ASD, ADHD is often not diagnosed until adulthood,
People with ADHD consistently demonstrate patterns of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that affects their everyday functioning and/or development.
10 common symptoms of ADHD
- Fidgeting or being unable to sit still
- Fearless. Very little or no sense of danger
- Concentration issues
- Excessive movement
- Excessive talking
- Interrupting conversations or being unable to wait their turn
- The inability to think before acting
- Carelessness and/or forgetfulness, easily distracted
- Short attention span, including difficulty listening to or following instructions
- Organisation difficulties
This list generally refers to children and adolescents. It is believed that symptoms can reduce as people approach adulthood.
If undiagnosed during childhood, it's not uncommon for adults to be unaware they have ADHD.
It is common for adult ADHD to result in unstable relationships, issues at work in education and low self-esteem
5 common symptoms of adult ADHD
- Similar to the list above, adults can experience restlessness, excessive activity and problems focusing on and completing tasks
- Issues with organisation, planning, prioritising, time management and multi-tasking
- Mood swings and a short fuse, often brought about by frustration and intolerance.
- Trouble coping with stress
Why are ASD and ADHD often grouped together?
Is it not completely unusual - especially when children are very young - for the two to be mistaken for one another. Diagnoses can be difficult.
Moreover, it has been suggested that the conditions are two different manifestations of a single disorder which has a range of subtypes. It is said that this theory is far from robust, but there is research to suggest ASD and ADHD share similar genetic causes.
4 similarities between ASD and ADHD
- Difficulty focusing, especially on things they have no interest in
- Social awkwardness
- Inability to comprehend other people’s emotions or feelings
In addition to this, both can be experienced at the same time. This can make diagnoses very difficult.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 14% of children are diagnosed with both ASD and ADHD.
Treatments for ASD and ADHD
There are no treatments that will 'cure' a person of ADHD or ASD, they are life-long conditions. However, there are routes that are taken to help.
Behavioural therapy is used for both which can help manage symptoms and develop skills to help cope with daily life. It comes in a variety of forms, so finding the right method can be a bit of a journey.
It is said to be most effective in young children when delivered by parents.
Behavioural therapy is regarded as the most successful way to help a child with ASD or ADHD develop skills.
Both ASD and ADHD medications can include stimulants. The purpose of stimulants is to increase mental or physical function.
These are said to help with focus and subsequently with the school or work environment. This kind of medication is said to be successful for around 70% to 80% of people. They can, however, cause unpleasant side effects.
5 common side effects of stimulants:
- Loss of Appetite
- Nausea or 'giddiness'
- Anxiety and depression
- Headaches and/or stomach cramps
There is some debate as to the appropriateness of using stimulants to treat ASD and ADHD.
Some healthcare professionals have avoided prescribing stimulants to young people with ADHD and ASD due to doubts about efficacy and concerns that these medications make repetitive behaviours (e.g. rocking) worse, as well as side effects.
One study which looked at children with both ASD and ADHD, as well as children with just ADHD, found that the stimulants showed improvements with the following:
- Intermittent explosive rage
However, side effects were witnessed. The participants in the ADHD-only group experienced significant nausea, giddiness, headaches and sleep difficulties.
The participants in the ASD and ADHD group experiences only sleep difficulties.
Living with ADHD or autism can be exhausting.
And of course, it's isn't always the person with the diagnosis that suffers, but those around them. Many parents and caregivers fight an (often lonely and invisible) battle every day.
Despite the high numbers of ADHD or autism in the UK, people don't feel the support is available to them.
One survey found that only '23% of people with autism thought social workers had a proper understanding of the condition and 70% believed they were not getting the care they required'.
A 2019 inquiry found that 71% of autistic adults in England weren't getting the support they needed
Another study identified a number of additional barriers that hindered people with autism or ADHD, such as waiting rooms and waiting times.
In addition to this, the treatments offered for ASD and ADHD can be addictive and cause a number of serious side effects.
CBD can offer hope.
We know that CBD is non-addictive with few (if any) side effects.
ADHD and ASD can have a number of co-occurring conditions including stress, anxiety, depression, aggression, seizures, hypertension and insomnia. We know that CBD can potentially help in these areas.
In addition to this, the number of success stories that can be found in relation to CBD and ASD/ADHD are extremely encouraging. You can read some of these success stories at the bottom of the article.
What do people use CBD for?
The world is fast realising that CBD offers a number of therapeutic effects for a number of conditions, with few, if any, side effects.
10 ways CBD could help
Are there any side effects with CBD?
One of the biggest benefits of CBD is that it has few, if any, side effects. If any side effects are experienced, they are generally minor, with the benefits of CBD far outweighing any adverse effects.
However, everyone reacts differently to CBD and sometimes people who are particularly sensitive to CBD may experience some unwanted effects.
If this happens to you, it is recommended that you lower your dose. Or in the case of significant side effects, cease using that product altogether.
The most common side effects for CBD include:
It is not uncommon for people to report that they feel nothing at all when taking CBD. And that the effects of CBD are often only noticed in retrospect. For example, many users who take CBD for something like acne, only notice after a week that they have felt calmer and less anxious. This is in stark contrast to cannabis use, where the effects are intoxicating and often result in not being able to function normally.
What types of CBD products are there for ADHD and autism?
There are no types of CBD products that are recommended for ADHD and autism specifically.
A common choice is cannabidiol oil, more commonly known as CBD oil. These tinctures come in varying strength and are administered under the tongue with a pipette. However, sometimes the oil can have a relatively strong taste of hemp. If giving CBD to children, it may be that CBD gummies are a good treatment option.
Other CBD options include:
- CBD brownies
- CBD chocolate
- CBD Vaping (You must not vape CBD oil, only CBD e-liquids)
- CBD bath bombs and salts
- CBD capsules
- CBD creams
- CBD teas
The list of CBD products is increasing all the time.
It is worth taking extra care when choosing CBD products.
Given the current lack of regulations, there are many companies that claim their products to be something they are not.
CBD or cannabis products are often presenting in packaging which appear to be CBD, but sometimes they contain no CBD at all!
It important to do your research, buy only through reputable companies and always check the third-party lab results.
So, how can CBD help ADHD or autism?
I know what CBD is, and I know all about ADHD/ASD... but how can CBD actually help?
Alleviating anxiety and stress
We already know that CBD is being widely used now to alleviate anxiety and stress, and this is also the case for people with autism and ADHD.
Reduces aggression, violence and self-injurious behaviours
It is important to remember that the research in this area is lacking. However, there are numerous positive reports from parents and caregivers who have given their children CBD. For some, the anecdotal evidence is enough. Here are some of the reports:
- children who used to be unreachable during fits of rage are able to implement calming techniques whilst other parents have reported decreased instances of physical violence.
- One parent reported that her son went from self-harming behaviour (banging his head) to being able to ride a bike.
Improved social interactions
- Social interactions are another common problem for people with ADHD and autism, for both children and adults. One study looked at 18 patients with ASD. They found that a significant improvement was seen in social interaction when treated with both CBD and THC. It was of particular interest to the researchers that these were improvements in social interactions that were not normally seen with antipsychotic, antidepressant, or anxiolytic drugs, which can sometimes be used to treat ASD/ADHD.
- One parent described her son as being completely unable to socially interact, including simple play and making eye contact. Just in a matter of weeks, she reported that her son was much more chatty and making a lot more eye contact.
- Another parent described a noticeable difference with sociability with friends, which was behaviours that was present both at school and at home.
Reduction in co-occurring seizures.
ASD and ADHD are the most common conditions associated with childhood epilepsy. In fact, there is a 20% higher chance of having epilepsy if you have a diagnosis of ASD or ADHD.
One study which included epileptic and non-epileptic ASD patients showed a number of Improvements. The study demonstrated that within 6-9 months of treatment the majority of the patients showed some level of improvement in more than one of eight categories - including seizure. In fact, epilepsy was one of the strongest improvements that were witnessed. Other areas where improvements were seen included communication and social interaction, cognitive deficits and sleep issues.
There are a number of associate conditions that sufferers of ASD and ADHD often have to live with. Insomnia is one of them (other issues include intellectual disability, hypertension, anxiety, seizures, obesity, hyperactivity, depression and constipation).
We know that CBD can help with sleep issues, with one study demonstrating a 66.7% increase in sleep with a group of 25 participants. Whilst another review suggested that cannabinoids could improve 'sleep quality, decrease sleep disturbances and decrease sleep onset latency'.
- Dr. Giovanni Martinez, a clinical psychologist in Puerto Rico, reported that one of his autistic patients was completely non-verbal, but after using a spray oil in his mouth twice daily, starting speaking his first words after three weeks.
- One parent reported that her 16 month old son was a happy, giggly, chatty fun little boy who was learning new words every week. But just a couple of months later everything changed. He became much quieter and eventually regressed to the point of becoming non-verbal. He was diagnosed with non-verbal ASD. In just a few weeks after taking CBD oil, he began to babble once again. A year on from that he was making sentences and constantly improving.
He started to sleep again, he was relaxed and happy and his speech improved drastically.
Issues with food
- One parent reported that her 10-year-old son, who was diagnosed with severe autism, lost so much weight that he was diagnosed with malnutrition. So much so you could see the bones through his chest. Changes were seen within hours of her son taking CBD, including her son asking for food. In the first 8 months of treatment, he has gained approximately 40 pounds - almost doubling his weight.
- Another parent reported that her son, who had been a happy and healthy toddler quickly began to regress at age 18 months. his Mum reported that he began to "eat only yellow food – chips, nuggets, waffles and minimal amounts. No fruit, no vegetables and not even chocolate would entice him". Subsequently, he lost a lot of weight and became very pale and sullen. This is another example of CBD acting very quickly. He was given CBD in the morning, and by the end of the day, nursery relayed he seemed like a changed boy and had eaten carrots and potatoes!
It is common for children and young adults to demonstrate disruptive behaviour which is often defiant and/or aggressive. One study looked at 60 children with ASD who were treated with oral CBD and THC. Improvements in disruptive behaviours were seen in 61% of the participants.
A great example of how CBD can really make a different to those suffering with ASD