Avoidance Versus Acceptance: Coping With OCD And Autism

Although autism and OCD share some similarities, each condition has unique qualities. Autism affects approximately 10%¹ of the population — around 1 in every 54 children. While autism is a lifelong condition, it manifests itself in early childhood.

OCD affects around 2%² of the population. OCD and autism involve repetitive behaviors, such as hand washing or checking things repeatedly. People with OCD tend to focus on negative thoughts and beliefs. They also often engage in rituals that help them cope with the anxiety produced by their obsessive thoughts.

Autism has links to other disorders such as anxiety, depression, and dyslexia. For example, researchers found that individuals with autism had higher levels of obsessive behaviors.

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that has its onset before three years of age. In addition, you can identify ASD from impaired verbal and nonverbal communication, restricted social interactions and interests, or repetitive behaviors. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 44 children younger than eight years³ have ASD. 

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) causes anxiety and obsessions — persistent thoughts that are unpleasant but seem impossible to avoid. When you have this condition, you feel like you need to perform certain rituals repeatedly to reduce your anxiety. These rituals can range from washing your hands frequently to counting things. 

Many types of OCD include contamination fears, excessive hand-washing, symmetry obsessions, hoarding, and checking.

Similarities between autism and OCD

Isolation

People with ASD become socially isolated early in life because of underdeveloped communication skills. They often prefer to spend time alone instead of interacting with others. Sometimes, they may experience mood swings, lack of coordination, obsessive behavior, repetitive behaviors, and difficulty focusing. 

Both disorders can cause the patient to feel alone. With autism, isolation is more common than with people who have OCD. However, with OCD, you may have trouble trusting others around you or feel embarrassed or ashamed of your symptoms, causing you to avoid people and social situations.

Focus

When you have OCD, you may have difficulty focusing on something specific. You may focus on everything at once, or the obsessions and/or compulsions may distract you from performing other tasks. However, with autism, there is difficulty focusing, but the person tends to focus intensely on a specific interest or activity.

They may talk at length about a particular subject of interest, like a favorite movie or a hobby they enjoy. Since people with autism lack social awareness, they may go on and on, speaking about a particular subject even if the listener is not interested.

People with OCD, on the other hand, have social awareness and are generally able to focus, but it is the overwhelming obsessions and/or compulsions that interfere with this ability.

Sensitivity to surroundings

People with autism are extremely sensitive to stimuli around them, such as light, loud noise, crowded places, the way certain clothing feels on their skin, or the textures of certain foods. Their senses become heightened to the point where nothing else matters. Loud noises can scare people with autism, bright lights distract them, and a clothing tag on their shirt collar can bother them.

On the other hand, when you have OCD, your sensitivity to your surroundings can occur if they trigger your obsessions and/or compulsions. For instance, if you fear germs or contamination, sitting in a doctor’s office waiting area could trigger severe anxiety. You might be unable to touch door knobs unless you’re wearing gloves, or you may not be able to sit in a chair unless you cover it or sanitize it first.

As an OCD patient, you are always aware of what's happening around you and try to control things and situations that cause you anxiety.

Differences between autism and OCD

Symptoms of autism versus obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

OCD symptoms are different from those of autism. With autism, poor social skills is typical of the disorder. These individuals may have difficulty maintaining eye contact with others and show little interest in others. Often, people with autism may be oblivious to what others say.

With OCD, however, you can have excellent social skills, but anxious thoughts constantly run through your mind. You may have compulsions to do things to alleviate the obsessions. For example, if someone would say, "Don't touch this hot stove," you may think, "I should touch it. I can handle it."

Causes of autism versus OCD

Genetics, environmental causes, or complications at birth are believed to be some of the causes associated with the onset of autism. There are genetic disorders that can lead to the development of autism or genes that can affect a child’s brain development. Some genetic mutations are inherited, while others may occur spontaneously, meaning autism is not entirely inherited.

Environmental factors associated with the development of autism may include viral infections, medications or complications during pregnancy, or exposure to air pollutants.

The causes of OCD are not entirely known, but it is believed that the disorder could be due to genetics, biology, and/or learned behaviors. Genetics means that if you have a family member with the disorder, you might be more likely to develop OCD. Biological causes mean that OCD can occur due to changes in your brain’s natural functioning.

When OCD occurs due to learned behaviors, you can model certain compulsive behaviors or fears from watching someone who displays those behaviors or fears, such as a parent or caretaker.

Managing autism and OCD

Autism and OCD are conditions that require much support and guidance to manage. Those with autism need lots of help and encouragement from loved ones and caretakers to complete tasks and may often require occasional or even 24-hour supervision, depending on the individual's level of functioning. 

People with OCD can function independently but often need support from loved ones and mental health professionals to manage the condition since it can be very debilitating. If obsessions and/or compulsions are severe, a person with OCD may have difficulty completing basic daily tasks and may therefore need assistance from others.

Both disorders require much effort to cope with and require constant maintenance in terms of receiving therapy and, in many cases, medication.

There is no cure for either disorder, but treatment is available for both. 

Managing OCD

There are several ways to get help if you suffer from OCD, including talking to a professional therapist, taking medication, self-help techniques, therapy, or even alternative treatments. You may find that doing yoga or meditation helps. Maintaining a healthy diet is important for your overall mental health, so it can also help in managing OCD. 

Interventions for Autism

Although there is no cure for autism, help is available to treat its symptoms. Specialized behavior therapy helps improve cognitive functions and self-care skills. Pharmacological treatments include antidepressants and antipsychotic medications, while medical therapies include seizure medication and nutritional supplements.

FAQs

Is autism a disease?

Autism is not a disease but rather a set of symptoms that cause children to display behaviors that are not typical of their age and developmental level. Autism spectrum disorder is among the neurodevelopmental disorders, including intellectual disability, communication disorders like stuttering, ADHD, and specific learning disorder, among others.

These conditions have different levels of severity, but they all cause developmental problems that require treatment. 

At what age does OCD manifest?

If you have OCD, you may notice urges or compulsions early in life and find yourself performing them frequently, even throughout childhood. In some cases, you may develop OCD later in life. What's more, OCD symptoms may come and go. Sometimes you might experience no problems at all.

However, other times, you may experience severe distress that interferes with everyday activities and relationships.

The lowdown

Autism manifests between 2 to 5-years-old and is a lifelong condition; therefore, having an early diagnosis is critical so that treatment and services can begin early. People with autism may dislike touching and seem overly interested in specific interests or objects, like toys or movie characters.

These individuals may not know what common words mean and may use repetitive phrases or gestures. Additionally, they may have trouble communicating with other people and could have difficulty interacting with others.

When you suffer from OCD, you do specific actions repeatedly to feel better. You often feel stressed and may even become depressed. Specialists can help you cope with the symptoms of autism and OCD.

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Do you want to know if there are any Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) clinical trials you might be eligible for?
Have you taken medication for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?
Have you been diagnosed with Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Editor’s picks


Join our email list

Want all the latest clinical trial and HealthMatch news in your inbox? We thought you might! Sign up below.