Life As An AuDHD (Autistic + ADHD) Adult

My brain is wired differently than the average person.

Life as a AuDHD Adult christinarosepix | Shutterstock

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional; I am only sharing my own experience. Also, if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person; we are not a monolith, and I don’t claim to speak for the entire autistic community.

The NHS has an excellent list of signs of autism in adults. Let me address some of the signs they list and how they impact me.

Here are 6 signs of autism and how they impact me:

1. Finds it hard to understand what others are thinking or feeling

I can tell when somebody has a positive emotion versus a negative emotion, but I struggle with determining anything more specific than that, especially if I have to rely entirely on their facial expression or body language. Are you sad? Mad? Jealous? Tired? Hungry? I'm unlikely to guess correctly if you don’t tell me using words.


Similarly, I loathe close-ups of character's expressions in films or TV shows. I understand in theory that we’re supposed to figure something out based on how their face is arranged, but I rarely guess correctly; I need dialogue to clue me in. I suspect this is one reason I've long preferred reading books over watching movies; books provide more opportunities for intuiting a character's thoughts and feelings.

2. Becomes very anxious about social situations

I was diagnosed with social anxiety as a young adult, and the older I grew, the worse my anxiety got because I became increasingly aware of how lacking my social skills were. Bad experience after bad experience piled up. I knew I was terrible at socializing, but I couldn’t figure out exactly why.


Therapists encouraged me to go out more as a form of exposure therapy for my “social anxiety.” However, between not being able to understand what people were thinking or feeling, my auditory processing disorder making it difficult to keep up with conversations in loud environments, and constantly being told, “We’ve met before” when introducing myself to people thanks to my face blindness, and easily becoming overwhelmed in loud, busy places due to sensory sensitivities, there was no way I could win.

RELATED: Extreme Social Anxiety Almost Ruined My Life

3. Finds it hard to make friends or prefers to be on their own

As you can imagine, all my struggles with socializing made it incredibly difficult for me to make and keep friends. I finally have a best friend who I met on X. We communicate entirely through direct messages and texts, and she’s probably AuDHD, as well, making it easier for us to communicate since our brains work similarly.

Otherwise, most of my friends as an adult were work friends who became social media friends after one of us changed jobs. I struggled to maintain relationships with my high school friends because we didn’t have as much in common when we were no longer in school together.


Now, I live alone with my dog and struggle to picture sharing my living space with another human again. It’s just so much easier to isolate myself at home and not have to deal with other people.

4. Seems blunt, rude, or not interested in others without meaning to

This is the reason my sibling hasn’t spoken to me in about a decade and one more reason I’ve always struggled to make friends. I’ve been told I come across as “standoffish,” “cold,” and “holier than thou.” I tend to be cripplingly shy around strangers. I taught myself a game called, “What is my face supposed to be doing right now?” but I'm not very good at it; people tell me I look unapproachable.

I also struggle with written communication because allistic (non-autistic) people read subtext into everything, and I generally don’t put subtext into any of my writing. As a result, people sometimes misinterpret my words and get offended when I mean no offense at all. I’ve tried hard to get better at guessing how my words might be perceived, but I still fail sometimes.

5. Has a very keen interest in certain subjects or activities

I’ve always loved learning other languages. When I was in 5th and 6th grade, my elementary school had a lady come in once a week to teach us Russian. I think we spent the entire first year just on the alphabet and then learned a few simple words and phrases the second year, but I still looked forward to the class every week. Sadly, I don’t remember much these days besides “Eto dome” (“This is a house”).


When I reached 7th grade, I could finally choose an elective language, either Spanish or French. My parents tried to push me toward Spanish, which would have been more useful as an American, but I insisted on learning French.

I had such a knack for French that when my senior year rolled around, my 4th-year French teacher tutored me on 5th-year French so that I could take the AP French test. Out of 6 AP tests I took over 2 years in 5 different subjects, that’s the test I got the best score on.

This is just one example of how I could easily excel in subjects that interested me. On the other side of the coin, my ADHD made it nearly impossible for me to learn subjects that didn’t interest me, like biology.

Autistic women may be more likely to:

  • have learned to hide signs of autism to ‘fit in’ — by copying people who do not have autism
  • be quieter and hide their feelings
  • appear to cope better with social situations
  • show fewer signs of repetitive behaviors”

I’ve always been quiet and learned to hide my feelings from a young age. I got so good at shoving my emotions down that I still only managed to cry about once or twice a year. My repetitive behaviors have always been smaller or at least seemed “normal” for a girl, so they didn’t attract the kind of attention that could have led to me getting diagnosed as a child.

6. Likes to plan things carefully before doing them

The ADHD side of my brain adores spontaneity, but the autistic side of my brain loves to plan. Before I moved to my current apartment, I spent 6 months searching the entire greater Houston area for the perfect apartment. I had a massive spreadsheet going with various categories, including reviews from actual residents. The effort paid off, and I found my dream apartment, but I don’t think the average allistic person would put as much effort as I did into finding an apartment.

On the other hand, my spontaneous ADHD brain has led to me moving to a new state within a couple of weeks of first having the idea, not once, but twice. Estimates are hard to come by, but it’s clear that many people with ADHD or autism have both conditions. According to Spectrum:

“An estimated 30 to 80 percent of children with autism also meet the criteria for ADHD and, conversely, 20 to 50 percent of children with ADHD for autism.”


So, if you, like me, constantly battle between the spontaneous and plan-ahead parts of your brain, you may also be AuDHD.

The Mayo Clinic has fantastic information about signs of ADHD in adults. Like I did with the signs of autism, let me mention a few of those signs and how they impact me.

Here are 6 signs of ADHD and how they impact me:

1. Impulsiveness

I have always struggled with impulsiveness, especially when it comes to food and money management. My impulsiveness is arguably the trait that gets me into the most trouble in my day-to-day life. 

I lost a significant chunk of income this month, and I tried hard to cut back on how often I have junk food delivered, but I’ve still been ordering fast food several times a week and putting it on a credit card. I know I need to stop, but for the life of me, I can’t. My “screw it” voice is just too loud.


RELATED: 10 Major Differences Between Being Impatient Vs Being Impulsive

2. Disorganization and problems prioritizing

As a self-employed freelance writer, this is another one of my biggest problems. Now that I’m trying to balance freelance writing with personal writing, I spend a huge amount of time every morning trying to decide where to start and what to do.

I also rarely prioritize things like dishes, housecleaning, and laundry. Those tasks just don’t even exist in my head until I’m out of clean bowls, constantly getting dirt embedded in my bare feet that’s been tracked in at the front door, or I'm about to run out of clean underwear.


3. Poor time management skills

How can I properly manage my time when I can’t decide which tasks to prioritize and the “screw it” voice in my brain is screaming at me to stick with “fun” rather than important tasks?

4. Low frustration tolerance

I rarely get angry, but I am frequently frustrated. Every little thing seems to rub me the wrong way. I especially get frustrated with myself due to my ADHD and then feel discouraged because I’m not being as productive as I feel I should be. Getting frustrated with myself doesn’t help me be any more productive; it just compounds the problems.

My low frustration tolerance is also strongly tied to sensory sensitivities I experience as an autistic person. The sound of children screaming when they play, for example, makes my blood boil. I never take it out on the kids because I understand they're just kids, but not being able to control the situation makes me even more frustrated.


One of my most important criteria, when I was apartment hunting, was making sure my unit wasn’t too close to the pool because my last apartment was right next to it, and summers were brutal thanks to the constant noise.

5. Frequent mood swings

I was improperly diagnosed with and treated for Bipolar Disorder when most of my mood swings were tied to my previously undiagnosed autism and ADHD. Getting addicted to and binge-watching a new series for three days straight while hardly getting any sleep can look a lot like a hypomanic episode, but it could also be an ADHD hyper-fixation taken to the extreme. I’ve also experienced a lot of depression in my life, especially before finding out I’m AuDHD.

Life as an AuDHD Adult Master1305 / Shutterstock


RELATED: 13 Tiny Things Pretty Much Anyone Can Do To Improve Their Emotional Health

6. Problems following through and completing tasks

I’m great at starting things, but not so great at actually finishing them. Whether it’s novel ideas, making a grocery list, or the cross stitch I haven’t touched in a couple of months, I’m always haunted by things I started and never finished.

Life as an AuDHD Adult

While I’m “high-functioning” enough to live alone, I struggle a lot more than the average 41-year-old. (Please note that many of us autistic adults don’t like the use of functioning labels; I’m only using it here to prove a point.)

I only have enough money in savings to last until my next paycheck. I don’t have any money saved up for retirement. I owe more money than I would care to admit for back taxes and credit card debt. I practically never eat any fruits or vegetables, thanks to how sensitive I am to food textures. I’m barely clinging to my career as a freelance writer. I avoid making phone calls as much as possible, even when they’re for important appointments. My entryway is covered in sand that I can’t be bothered to sweep. My countertop is covered in dirty dishes. And I don’t see myself dating again or finding a partner to share life with because I’ve gotten so used to living alone and because I hate socializing so much.


Everybody has problems, and mine aren’t special. A lot of my problems are closely tied to being AuDHD, though, and acknowledging that brings me a tiny amount of peace that it’s not my “fault.” My brain is wired differently than the average person, and that’s not something I can control. All I can do is my best, whatever that looks like on any given day.

RELATED: 4 Giant Ways To Tell If You Have Undiagnosed Adult ADHD

Jennifer Nelson is a writer who covers diverse topics, including autism, ADHD, memoir, mental health, pets, and more.