Living with Autism and ADHD (AuDHD)

Words by Rodney (he/him) 28 NSW

Living with both Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which I’ve come to think of as my “AuDHD”, is like walking a tightrope between chaos and order.

Each day, I navigate an internal battlefield where my longing for constant activity and stimulation clashes with my need for predictable, calm environments. It’s a journey marked not just by challenges, but by discoveries about my resilience and identity.

My ADHD cries out for adventure – for the thrill of starting new projects and the satisfaction of high-energy tasks. It thrives on hyperfocus, pushing me to lose myself in tasks that catch my interest.

Yet, my ASD speaks in a tone of caution, preferring the comfort of routine and the familiar. It recoils in the face of too much novelty or unexpected change, creating a push-and-pull effect that can be mentally exhausting and emotionally draining.

This internal conflict often leads to what’s known as autistic burnout – a state of physical and mental collapse caused by the constant need to manage sensory and social overload.

Burnout leaves me feeling incapable of doing even simple tasks, a stark contrast to the ADHD-driven compulsion to be endlessly productive. ADHD is always running and doesn’t seem to run out of steam, whereas ASD needs time to recuperate, even though they’re on the same path. Often times, it feel like a marathon in which my ASD can’t keep up with the ADHD.

This clash often leads to comparing myself to that of a neurotypical nature, particularly in the workforce and social life. For example, at work, I might feel inadequate because I struggle with multitasking or maintaining eye contact during meetings. Socially, I might compare my ability to navigate social cues or maintain friendships with that of my neurotypical peers, which can be frustrating and disheartening.

This can lead me to “mask” in order to “fit in” or conform to societal expectations. Masking is a coping mechanism where neurodivergent people consciously or unconsciously hide their neurodivergent traits and adopt behaviours deemed more acceptable by societal standards. This is often done to avoid stigma, discrimination, or to better fit into social and professional environments. This is extremely exhausting.

Everyday environments can quickly become battlefields where my senses are overwhelmed by too much stimulus. A busy supermarket, the harsh lighting in an office, or the unpredictable noise in a café can trigger intense anxiety and distress. This sensory overload clashes with my ADHD’s desire to explore and engage, forcing me into a retreat I’m not always willing to make.

In the workplace, these challenges manifest uniquely. My ADHD fuels my ambition, loves the rush of new projects, and the thrill of problem-solving. However, my ASD craves structure and routine. Changes at work, such as shifting deadlines or unexpected meetings can throw off my carefully managed balance.

This tug-of-war makes it seem like I’m operating on two different wavelengths, which is not only confusing for me but also for my colleagues.

The reality for myself and many young Australians is that navigating AuDHD requires a significant and ongoing recalibration of life’s expectations and strategies. It means advocating for accommodations in the workplace, like noise-cancelling headphones or structured schedules, and most importantly seeking understanding from those around us.

Living with AuDHD feels like being in a boat that’s constantly being rocked by waves. The ADHD part of me might paddle eagerly towards a horizon of possibilities, while the ASD part braces for the unsettling motion, trying to stabilize the journey. It’s a cycle that demands resilience and adaptability – qualities that over time become second nature.

To my fellow AuDHD navigators, I say this: our journey is unique, but it’s also a testament to our strength. We move through a world that isn’t always built for minds like ours, yet we find ways to adapt, thrive and contribute. To the community that struggles to understand us, know that with patience and support, we can show you how our minds shine brilliantly, even if differently.

This isn’t just about the difficulties but also the incredible insight and creativity that come from viewing the world through an AuDHD lens. Let’s embrace our complexities and celebrate the diversity within us.

 

 

Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio

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