Conditions wrongly categorized as mental illness-1: Autism

Conditions wrongly categorized as mental illness-1: Autism

Mental illnesses have always had a stigma attached to them. Not only are they generally misunderstood but misdiagnosed as well. For instance, children suffering from neurological disorders which further hamper their physical or mental growth are sometimes thought to be mentally unstable; adults suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are labeled as psychologically weak; and others who are not only ill-treated by the society but also branded as mentally sick without any real mental problems.

While conditions such as PTSD, depression or anxiety are serious mental disorders that need proper medical treatment, there are many other conditions that are wrongly perceived as mental illnesses. The series “Conditions wrongly categorized as mental Illness,” talks about common conditions such as autism, insomnia, down syndrome, Alzheimer’s, and dementia that are considered as mental disorders though they are not.

A major drawback of mental illness is that it cannot be tested like any other physical illness such as, they do not reveal themselves in an x-ray or blood tests but only through symptoms that need to be recognized and diagnosed. Hence, mental illnesses are often neglected and less understood. Resultantly, any abnormal behavior, unusual tendencies and unexpected symptoms are categorized as mental disorders even when the condition has nothing to do with brain or its chemistry.

Understanding autism

Owing to the lack of knowledge regarding mental conditions and disorders and certain other physical illnesses, autism is generally perceived to be a mental disorder. However, autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is basically a group of developmental disorders that affects an individual’s ability to communicate, interact and develop social relationships. Primarily a neurological condition, rather than a psychiatric disorder, autism occurs due to abnormalities in neurotransmitter levels and the brain structure. Autism is contracted long before birth due to some changes in the brain chemistry, however, the symptoms of the condition typically appear during the first three years of a child’s life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014, nearly one in 68 children were diagnosed with ASD in the United States. It also stated that the disorder was 4.5 times more common among boys with prevalence of nearly one in 42, as against one in 189 in case of girls.

Children with autism often have difficulty in performing day-to-day tasks such as playing, crawling, and interacting with people including parents. Such children are exhibit unusual communication methods such as not making eye contact, not responding to their names, repeating their actions or playing with toys in singular ways. Sensory problems such as experiencing pain due to certain kinds of sound, smell, texture, sight or being unresponsive to extreme conditions like cold or injury are also some of the symptoms of ASD. Owing to these, autism is often considered as a mental disorder since people don’t know of its prime cause.

Notably, while autism is a childhood condition, many children carry it into their adulthood as well depending upon the severity and the treatment received in childhood.

Autism and mental disorder

While it is certain that Autism is not a mental disorder, there are few mental conditions commonly found in autistic children. Some of them are anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and bipolar disorder. According to a research conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), titled, “Psychiatric comorbidity in young adults with a clinical diagnosis of Asperger syndrome,” nearly 70 percent of autistic adults had experienced depression at least once in their life, while 50 percent had suffered from recurrent depressive episodes.

Seeking help

ASD is a lifelong disability wherein children and adults face difficulty in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions and relationships, and leisure or play activities. While autism is not treatable as of now, researchers continue to look for a cure. However, this makes it important to ensure that children with autism are checked for any mental illness which they may have developed because of their condition.

If you or your loved one is suffering from any mental health problem, the California Mental Health Helpline can assist you in finding the best mental health facilities in California. You may call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online to seek information about mental health treatment centers in California.