Differentiating autism from mental illness

Differentiating autism from mental illness

With limited knowledge about mental illness, people often tend to consider any disability or abnormality as a mental disorder. When little is known, it becomes difficult for someone to differentiate between various conditions which often leads to misdiagnosis of diseases. Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is one such condition that is often misunderstood as a mental disorder.

ASD is a group of developmental disorders that affect an individual’s ability to communicate, interact and develop social relationships with others. It is precisely a neurological condition, not psychiatric, that involves abnormalities in neurotransmitter levels and brain structure. An autistic person also tends to perceive the world differently than others. ASD is a common disorder seen among children, however, it is not limited to them only. Autistic children may carry the condition to their adulthood.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report published in 2016, nearly 1 in 68 children was diagnosed with ASD in the United States in 2012. Further, it also stated that the disorder was 4.5 times more common among boys in comparison to girls.

Understanding ASD

ASD restricts the behavior, interests, and activities of the child. The spectrum of symptoms in case of autism is entirely different from the symptoms of mental illness. However, few autistic children may also develop certain mental illnesses due to their condition.

Symptoms of ASD can appear as early as during the first three years from birth. Children with the disorder can face difficulty in performing day-to-day activities, such as playing, crawling, interacting with people and even parents. Some children may also exhibit different methods of interaction or communication. Additionally, unusual behavior like not making any eye contact, unresponsive to their names, repeating their actions or playing with toys in unusual ways can also be noticed in autistic children.

In later years, such children may face a delay in language development, problem in expressing emotions, difficulty in interpreting facial expressions, as well as sleep problems. Many may also take time in responding to queries. Sensory problems, such as experiencing pain from certain of kind of sound, smell, texture, sight or unresponsive to extreme conditions like cold or injury are also some of the symptoms of ASD.

Co-occurrence of mental disorders with autism

Certain mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression are common among autistic people. As per a 2011 study published in the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities 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.

Some of the most common co-occurring mental conditions among autistic adults are:

  • Anxiety: It is the most common mental disorder among autistic people, with nearly 30 percent of them experiencing anxiety symptoms. Autistic people are often seen exhibiting different forms of anxiety, ranging from separation anxiety, panic disorder to specific phobias.
  • Depression: It is the second most common mental disorder in autistic children. Studies suggest the risk of developing depression is more during the transition from childhood to adolescence and adulthood. One of the prime reasons for developing depression can be the communication difficulties they face.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Symptoms such as repetitive behavior and restricted interests which are common among autistic people can be mistaken for the symptoms of OCD. However, the major point of difference between the two is that the repetitive behavior tends to cause anxiety in people with OCD, whereas an autistic person enjoys his/her repetitive action.
  • Bipolar disorder: According to studies, nearly 27 percent of autistic people also suffer from
    bipolar disorder. Symptoms of bipolar disorder experienced by an autistic person can include loud/rapid/nonstop talking, pacing, impulsivity, irritability, and insomnia.

Seeking treatment

ASD and several psychiatric conditions may share similar symptoms or at times the symptoms tend to overlap, the two conditions belong to different categories of diagnostics. ASD is a lifelong disability and people with the disorder should be diagnosed and treated for the mental illnesses they might develop owing to various difficulties they face along the way.

If you or your loved one is suffering from any mental health issue, the California Mental Health Helpline can help you to find one of 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. Our representatives can connect you with the best mental health treatment centers in California.