Schizophrenia and autism are both neurological disorders. Both disorders manifest themselves in impaired brain function and affect social behavior. These pathologies have a lot in common but also many differences.
Such diagnoses as autism and schizophrenia are sometimes confused with each other. It is because they share common characteristics. These include:
- Absent-mindedness and inattention;
- Cyclical, repetitive movements;
- A tendency to social isolation and communication problems;
- Decreased levels of emotionality.
Let us consider each pathology of consciousness separately. It will help us better clarify the difference.
As a rule, autism begins at a very early age. In this case, the child is observed:
- Detachment from the outside world;
- A desire for frequent self-isolation;
- A decreased or increased response to sensory stimuli;
- Difficulties in interpersonal relations;
- Difficulty in communication;
- Monotonous activities.
In addition, the inability to think abstractly, inability to concentrate, and problems with executive functions are fixed. But the same is inherent in some types of schizophrenia; these signs are not what distinguishes autism from schizophrenic disorder.
The symptoms of this disorder may have different combinations in different cases. Other types of autism are classified accordingly. The classification is somewhat fuzzy, and its boundaries are very tentative. Autism was isolated as a separate disease relatively recently. Many questions about the diagnosis and treatment of this disease are still under discussion.
Interestingly, autism in boys is 5 times more common than in girls. The exact reasons for this have not been established, but specific theories exist. According to one of them, there is a protective gene in the female body, which in most cases does not allow this pathology to develop. According to another hypothesis, girls have better-developed communication skills, so they often go unnoticed for mild types of autism.
Autism at Different Ages
In some cases, the disorder is already detected in infants. When diagnosed, attention is paid to how the child reacts to others, how they develop and shows they or their mood. The first signs of infantile autism are unwillingness to hold adults, lack of animation at the sight of their mother, and impaired developmental norms.
At 2-3 years of age, full development of speech may be an autism symptom. In some cases, the child’s vocabulary is not bad, but he misuses words with inappropriate intonations. Another striking sign is echolalia. With this pathology, children repeat several times the same, sometimes completely meaningless, phrases.
As the child ages, it becomes more challenging to communicate. Autistic children refuse to play with their peers, do not understand their rules, and are uncomfortable in children’s groups. They usually play with themselves. From the outside, it looks like a set of meaningless movements.
At school age, there are problems with learning. These children are often diagnosed with mental retardation. But in rare cases, on the contrary, autistic children have above-average intelligence. And even then, there are problems with abstract thinking and generalization and understanding things of an emotional nature.
Causes of Autism
They have not yet been established; there are only several hypotheses. There is a theory about a specific combination of genes formed due to a mutation. Some experts see the cause of autism as toxic influences on the fetus – drug abuse, alcoholism, smoking, infections, and taking medications during pregnancy.
But the latter is more of a trigger because the nature of this pathology is still genetically conditioned. In other words, this disease is always congenital and cannot be acquired over time. In some cases, autism simply “sleeps” and doesn’t show itself until later.
Because of its genetic nature, there is no treatment for this disorder. But there are corrective therapies. They are symptomatic and include a variety of measures – psychological, pharmacological, and others.
The central characteristics of this diagnosis are considered:
- Delusional thoughts, confused speech;
- Disorientation in space;
- Antisocial behavior;
- Lack of logic in actions;
- Difficulties with communication;
- Decreased emotionality.
This disorder often occurs in childhood, from up to 7 years old. The following manifestations usually accompany childhood schizophrenia:
- Impaired concentration;
- Low learning ability;
- Unwillingness to communicate with peers and adults;
- Slurred speech;
- Imaginary images.
Schizophrenia in childhood goes through various stages – periodic remissions and complications. During the latter, the child often has hallucinations. He may begin to believe that he has acquired superpowers, see imaginary friends, etc.
During remission, such children usually develop and are in no way inferior to their peers. But when they get worse, aggressive and suicidal manifestations are possible, as well as fear of persecution.
Early initiation of effective treatment for childhood schizophrenia is essential to recognize the onset of the disease as early as possible. Parents should pay extra attention if:
- The child frequently talks to themself or an invented interlocutor;
- These conversations have a negative or even aggressive character;
- The child is afraid of many everyday things when there is no reason for fear;
- The child often talks about how everything is against them;
- Visual and auditory hallucinations occur;
- The child has no friends and avoids direct interaction with peers;
- Chaotic disordered thinking.
Such symptomatology in schizophrenia is quite typical, but these signs alone do not yet indicate the presence of the diagnosis. But if a child is in the risk group, even if 1 or 2 of them appear, it is necessary to see a doctor as soon as possible.
What are the causes of schizophrenia?
It is practically impossible to specify the exact causes of the formation of this pathology. But some factors act as a trigger for the development of the disease.
- Heredity. The leading risk group includes people with cases of proven schizophrenia in the family.
- Stress factors. As a rule, they affect patients in the risk group. Death of a loved one, violence, alcoholism in the family, or even an ordinary move can work so that mild schizoid tendencies turn into a child’s initial stage of schizophrenia.
- Substance abuse exposures. We are already talking about adolescence when certain inherited tendencies can develop into a persistent schizophrenic disorder. The use of drugs or alcohol often provokes the rapid development of mental illness.
Is there a connection between autism and schizophrenia?
Of course, autism and schizophrenia are not the same things. But there is a specific biological connection between them. The basis for both diseases is laid as early as the perinatal period. Hurting the formation of nervous system structures can:
- The presence of TORCH infections in the pregnant mother;
- Paternal age too mature;
- Rhesus has a conflict with their parents;
- Toxic influences.
This connection is confirmed by cases when comorbidity is recorded in a patient. This term refers to a combination of symptoms of several mental diseases with a common pathogenetic mechanism, which includes autism and schizophrenia.
Differences between autism and schizophrenia and problems of diagnosis
So, distinguishing autism from schizophrenia can be difficult in some cases. After all, both diseases are characterized by numerous similar symptoms. As we have already said, these include reduced emotional background, poor ability to maintain communication, disorganization, and, in some situations, excessive aggression.
So what’s the difference? How do you tell the difference between autism and schizophrenia?
The main challenge in determining how autism differs from schizophrenia is related to the age-related features of these pathologies. As a rule, it is practically impossible to identify a precise diagnosis before about 7 years. After all, the differences between the two diseases at this time are somewhat blurred, and the symptoms are implicit and blurred.
Most often, the pathology – autism or schizophrenia – is detected during adolescence. It is at this time that all signs become most pronounced.
Can autism in childhood develop into schizophrenia in adolescence? No, but in about ⅓ of the youth cases, autism spectrum disorders are complemented by schizophrenic symptoms.