One diagnosis can be overwhelming in itself, let alone two. In this blog, we’ll be untangling the ties between autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder by answering the following questions:
- What is OCD?
- Is OCD associated with autism?
- Common misdiagnosis
- Are there causes for OCD?
- Is there treatment for OCD?
What Is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition characterized by excessive or intrusive thoughts (obsessions) that trigger repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
The obsessions and compulsions of OCD are commonly associated with the fear of germs or the need to arrange items in a specific order, and these thoughts and behaviors may or may not significantly impact daily functioning.
People with OCD may experience:
- Repetitive thoughts
- Fear of germs or dirt
- Ordering and arranging items
- Excessive handwashing
- Aggressive or violent thoughts about losing control or causing harm to self or others
- Doubting and having difficulty tolerating uncertainty
- Asking for reassurances
- Depression and anxiety disorders
- Stress in social situations
Diagnosable OCD is found in 1.6-2.5% of the population, but only a fraction receives a diagnosis and treatment. Symptoms typically develop gradually and vary throughout life, depending on the severity of a person’s diagnosis and whether they participate in any treatments.
Is OCD Associated With Autism?
There are similarities between the two conditions, and OCD may co-exist with ASD in a person. For example, people with either condition may experience sensory overload, social difficulties, or compulsive behaviors. Studies indicate that as many as 17 percent of autistic people may have OCD.
Research has shown that people with autism may be more likely to receive a diagnosis of OCD or exhibit OCD symptoms. Similarly, numerous studies have found that OCD and autism share genetic, neurobiological, familial, and behavioral commonalities. The two conditions may have some real connections, but being diagnosed with OCD doesn’t guarantee you have autism or vice-versa.
Because of the resemblances of autism and OCD, it’s common for them to be misdiagnosed for one another. Even with some similarities, the two conditions are very different. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder present at birth, while OCD is a mental health condition.
|Autism Spectrum Disorder
|1 in 36 children in the U.S.
|1 in 200 children and teens in the U.S.
|4 in 10 boys and 1 in 10 girls have autism.
|OCD is more common in males in childhood but more common in females in adolescence and adulthood.
|ASD is present at birth.
|OCD can begin at any point in life.
Information was pulled from Autism Speaks, the International OCD Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.
Are There Causes For OCD?
We’ve yet to discover an exact cause of OCD, but research suggests that genetics, brain abnormalities, and environment may contribute to the condition’s development. The compulsions of OCD are learned behaviors that develop into routines often to relieve anxiety. Likewise, distorted beliefs can reinforce the pressure to continue OCD behaviors.
Is There Treatment For OCD?
The two main approaches for treating OCD include psychotherapy and medications. Therapists and doctors commonly recommend a combination of the two to reduce the negative impacts of OCD effectively.
Psychotherapy is a broader category of therapies designed to treat numerous mental health and behavioral conditions. Exposure and response prevention (ERP), a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, is the specific psychotherapy used to treat OCD.
ERP takes a hands-on approach by placing people in scenarios that trigger their OCD tendencies while asking them not to act on these compulsions. By consistently resisting their OCD urges, they will reduce the compulsion to engage in anxiety-soothing rituals they usually rely on for relief.
The most common medications that doctors will prescribe for OCD are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of antidepressant commonly used to treat depression and anxiety. SSRIs increase serotonin levels in the brain and improve chemical signals to reduce OCD symptoms. Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) may also be used to manage OCD symptoms, especially in patients whose bodies resist SSRIs.
Along with therapies and medications, there are OCD support groups available. Many of the symptoms of OCD are misunderstood by those who don’t have the condition. Being surrounded by like-minded individuals is an encouraging way to recognize you’re not alone and that others deal with these thoughts and behaviors.