Neither autism is a part of schizophrenia nor is schizophrenia a part of autism. Even though the two have similar symptoms, they are different disorders. If individuals with autism have schizophrenia, psychosis can be observed, but this does not mean that psychosis is a symptom of autism.
Even though autism as a term was mentioned in the explanation of schizophrenia and there are behavioral similarities between autism and schizophrenia, they are completely different disorders. Some of the symptoms exhibited by individuals on the autism spectrum can be confused with the symptoms of psychosis. These symptoms may be sensory disturbances, rigid thinking, or symptoms such as social withdrawal. The presence of psychotic symptoms in autism spectrum disorders indicates comorbidity or the possibility of a common origin of both conditions.
Until the late 1970s, doctors and researchers mostly diagnosed children with autism as childhood schizophrenia. With the developing technology, a clear difference was created between autism and schizophrenia in diagnostic methods. Despite this, there are genetic studies conducted about it and it has found that these two disorders have similar origins during fetal development, thus establishing a link between the two.
Schizophrenia is a state of psychosis in which a person experiences a disconnection from reality. It can be said that it is a psychiatric disorder. It differs according to its type. Schizophrenic people can be extremely aggressive and dangerous, or they can be completely harmless and calm. It is often accompanied by hallucinations and delusions. The important issue in schizophrenia is to control the symptoms. The individual who does not receive the right treatment may experience great problems in his daily life. Drug therapy is the most common treatment method. In this way, many symptoms can be significantly extinguished or controlled.
Autism, on the other hand, is a developmental disorder that manifests itself with behavioral and cognitive inabilities. Autism is a spectrum disorder, so there are degrees, everyone on the spectrum experiences autism differently. Since they experience differently, they need different levels of support. So, it can be said that they need individualized interventions and therapies. These people have difficulty empathizing and making sense of abstract things. Although individuals with autism have limited ability to live independently, they are quite successful in subjects of interest thanks to their unique perspectives.
In both groups, there may be intelligent individuals as well as individuals with intellectual disabilities. These disorders are not directly related to mental ability. However, mental retardation is more common in individuals with autism.
There is no causal link between schizophrenia and autism and depression. When depression worsens, it becomes severe depression. When autism becomes severe, a regression in autism level is observed. Depression occurs frequently during the course of schizophrenia. On the other hand, autism is not in such a position at all.
Symptoms of Autism and Schizophrenia
Researchers have divided the symptoms into 3 categories which are positive symptoms, negative symptoms, and cognitive symptoms.
Positive symptoms are symptoms that get this name by being evaluated according to whether they are present in an individual. That is, they are symptoms that are observed in individuals with this condition but not observed in neurotypical individuals.
The positive symptoms of both autism and schizophrenia are unique to the individual. This means that these positive symptoms are the ones that make the two disorders differ from each other and allow us to understand them. A significant difference is observed in the symptoms of both disorders.
Positive symptoms of autism are exaggerated speech, echolalia (repeating everything sounded in the environment), repetitive body movements and behaviors, and sensory sensitivities. On the other hand, positive symptoms of schizophrenia are hallucinations, delusions, incoherent speech, talking to oneself or unseen things, and lack of body movement or catatonia.
Negative symptoms are related to functioning. It is the state of not being able to or failing to perform functions that are considered normal. Behaviors and symptoms that neurotypical people can exhibit but not people with these disorders.
The negative symptoms of autism and schizophrenia are similar. This is one of the reasons why it is misdiagnosed in childhood. These similar negative symptoms are more related to communication and emotional interactions. We can list these symptoms as inability to understand, recognize and express emotions; talking in a flat and emotionless voice; inability to understand, recognize and use facial expressions; tend to not make eye contact or make less; the state of being generally indifferent to others; isolation from society; and tend to talk less.
Cognitive symptoms are symptoms that occur as a result of the deterioration of cognitive skills. Comprehension, memory, balance, and concentration are the areas most affected. Their ability to learn something new or complete something that has already been affected. Cognitive symptoms may be similar in autism and schizophrenia. The only difference is that these symptoms are more severe in schizophrenic individuals.
Cognitive symptoms can be listed as comprehension and perception speed, paying attention, verbal and visual learning status, understanding and comprehension of spoken language, working memory, reasoning, problem-solving, and spatial perception. Studies have stated that the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenic individuals are more severe than those of individuals with autism. This is particularly important in language, perception, memory, and reasoning.
Diagnosis of Autism and Schizophrenia
As with all disorders, it is important to know the difference between autism and schizophrenia in order to have the right intervention, treatment, and a better quality of life. It can be observed in other conditions accompanying autism and schizophrenia. Many of these disorders involve the same or similar symptoms. This is the most important reason for the possibility of misdiagnosis.
The disorders that accompany autism are often ADHD, anxiety, developmental disorders, depression, and intellectual disorder. On the other hand, the disorders that accompany schizophrenia are often anxiety, depression, panic disorders, OCD, PTSD, and substance use disorders. It is important to make the difference between all of these disorders. Even though these can be the result of another, it is essential to know the origin of these symptoms.
Autism is a disorder that can be diagnosed after 3 years of age. Information from the primary caregiver is of great importance. Questions are asked about the child’s development and communication skills. In addition, information about repetitive behaviors, which is one of the defining symptoms of autism, is also obtained. Because of the fact that autism is a complex spectrum disorder, it is important to seek counseling from many different doctors and professionals, rather than just one specialist.
The diagnosis of schizophrenia is made at any age and after the symptoms of psychosis are observed. That is why there is not much focus on the developmental stages of the person. Psychosis occurs more often in late adolescence or adulthood than in childhood. These symptoms are usually manifested as mood changes and deterioration in thinking. Thus, it can be said that schizophrenia is not a developmental disorder.
However, although it is very rare, schizophrenia can also manifest itself in childhood. It is very difficult to diagnose as it is a very rare condition. These children may be misdiagnosed as these symptoms can be perceived as signs of autism. It also makes diagnosis more challenging, as it is difficult for children to describe their situation.
Treatment for Autism and Schizophrenia
Treatment in autism is a highly relative and subjective term. Interventions and treatments are individual and vary from person to person. Autism is not a disorder that can be treated, so the methods to be followed are the ones that will help the individual to adapt to social environments, feel better, and have a quality life. Autism interventions often begin at an early age. There are many different methods to choose and follow. These may be behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, attending social groups, or drug therapy. Drug therapy is recommended in order to reduce the side effects of autism.
Both drugs and therapies are of great importance in the treatment of schizophrenia. Antipsychotic drugs are prescribed for the treatment of psychosis symptoms. They should continue cognitive behavioral therapy or psychosocial therapy to help with their daily life problems and social skills. Special care should be offered that combines both medications and therapies. At the same time, people around schizophrenic individuals also need to receive a certain level of support.
Can a Person Have Autism and Schizophrenia at the Same Time?
Although autism and schizophrenia are different disorders, they can have similar symptoms. In fact, the individual may have both disorders at the same time. While autism is a developmental disorder that mostly affects social communication and interaction, schizophrenia is a mental disorder that mostly affects mood and way of thinking. Both conditions are generally considered genetic and affect specific areas of the brain. The areas they affect are considered to be similar, so they are considered to have similar symptoms.
While it is not possible to prevent the development of autism, we cannot prevent someone with autism from developing schizophrenia. The two cases are genetic and conditions that develop in the brain. Conditions that develop before birth. Therefore, we can say that these disorders are situations that we cannot control. There are many risk factors for the development of these conditions.
Many different situations can be listed as environmental risk factors. The most important ones can be living in a dangerous environment, poverty, harmful viruses to which the mother is exposed, and malnutrition of the mother. However, exposure to these factors does not mean that an individual with autism will automatically develop schizophrenia.
Psychosocial, educational and behavioral therapies to be followed in the treatment of autism and schizophrenia can improve the quality of life of individuals with these disorders. It helps develop social skills. Medication, on the other hand, helps relieve the symptoms of schizophrenia and helps control the side effects of autism. Family, friends, and people who can be considered primary caregivers of individuals with these disorders also need a certain level of support. Support groups can be the biggest helpers in this regard.
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