Mental Illness vs. Autism and Other Developmental Disorders
Mental Illness vs. Autism and Other Developmental Disorders
Table of Contents
- Mental Illness vs. Developmental Disorder
- Types, Causes, and Symptoms of Mental Illness
- Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD)
- Signs and Symptoms of ASD
- Video: The World Needs All Kinds by Temple Grandin
- Diagnosis and Treatment
- Myths & Misconceptions About Autism
- Famous People Who Have Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Success with Autism
It’s not uncommon for people, particularly adults, to be misdiagnosed with a mental illness before receiving a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD). But mental illness and developmental disabilities like autism are not the same things, although many people with autism also have a mental illness. In fact, anxiety and depression, in particular, occur at a higher rate among people with autism than in the general population.
When someone with autism also has a mental illness, it’s known as a dual diagnosis. Often, once a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is made, symptoms of mental illnesses like anxiety and depression lessen due to greater self-understanding and access to resources and support.
Here, we look at autism spectrum disorder and mental illness, including what the differences are and how they’re diagnosed and treated.
Mental Illness vs. Developmental Disorder
Mental illnesses are health conditions that involve changes in mood, emotion, thinking, and behaving. They are associated with mental distress and problems with social functioning. Around one in five adults in the United States has some form of mental illness at any given time, according to the American Psychiatric Association.1 The most common mental illnesses are anxiety and depression. Mental illness can occur at any age and is treatable with medication, therapy, or a combination of medication and therapy.
One in Five Adults Have a Form of Mental Disorder
Developmental disorders like autism differ from mental illness in several important ways. Developmental disorders generally appear at birth or during childhood and are diagnosed by the age of 18. While mental illness doesn’t typically interfere with cognitive abilities, a developmental disorder may impact a person’s ability to learn or to understand certain thoughts. Unlike mental illness, which can be successfully treated, developmental disorders are lifelong disabilities.
While mental illness and developmental disorders have key differences, they also have some similarities. Both are diagnosed and treated by mental health professionals, including therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, and both are found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used to diagnose mental conditions. Both mental illness and autism occur in people of all ethnic, racial and economic groups. However, it’s around four times more common among boys than among girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.2
Autism is 4 Times More Common in Boys Than Girls
More About Dual Diagnosis
Types, Causes, and Symptoms of Mental Illness
Over 200 different forms of mental illness have been classified to date. Anxiety disorders, major depression, and ADHD are among the most common mental illnesses that occur in people with autism spectrum disorder.
In general, mental illness is believed to be caused by a range of factors, including:
Genetic traits: Mental illness is more common in people who have blood relatives with a mental disorder.
Environmental exposures: Being in the womb, including toxins, stressors, and inflammatory conditions.
Brain chemistry: Brain chemicals govern mood and emotion, and when the production of neurotransmitters or the function of nerve receptors change, mental illness often occurs.
Environmental factors: Stress, drug or alcohol abuse, and trauma commonly lead to mental illness.
While each type of mental illness has its own specific set of signs and symptoms, general signs and symptoms of mental illness, include:
Feelings of sadness
Significant mood changes
Inability to cope
Intense feeligns of guilt, hostility, or anger
Withdrawal from friends and family
Detachment from reality
Changes in eathing or sleeping habits or sex drive
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autistic disorder typically involves language delays, communication challenges, social problems, and unusual interests and behaviors.
Asperger syndrome involves milder symptoms than autistic disorder and doesn’t usually include language or intellectual delays or disabilities.
Pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified is sometimes referred to as “atypical autism.” PDD-NOS is diagnosed when a person meets some, but not all, of the criteria for autistic disorder or Asperger syndrome. Symptoms of PPD-NOS are milder than those of autistic disorder.
While these were once diagnosed separately, they are now diagnosed under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder. If someone is “on the spectrum,” it means they have behavioral and developmental characteristics associated with this disorder. The autism spectrum ranges from being highly skilled at learning, thinking, and problem-solving to be severely challenged in these areas. Some people with autism require a high level of daily support, while others need far less support and live independently.
Risk Factors for ASD
Researchers don’t yet know the exact causes of autism spectrum disorder, but studies suggest that both genetic and environmental factors come into play. Some of the risk factors for ASD include:
Having a sibling with autism
Having older parents
Having very low birth weight
Having certain genetic conditions, including Down syndrome, and Rett syndrome
Signs and Symptoms of ASD
Not all people with ASD will have all of the signs and symptoms of the disorder, although most will experience several. Signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder include:
People with autism also have marked strengths, which may include:
The ability to remember information for a long time
Being a strong visual and auditory learner
Excelling in a particular subject, such as math, art, or music
Video: The World Needs All Kinds - Temple Grandin
Diagnosis and Treatment
How Autism Spectrum Disorder is Diagnosed and Treated
Autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed based on a child’s development and behavior, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.3 It can be detected as early as 18 months, although most children aren’t diagnosed until after the age of four. The sooner it’s diagnosed, the better the developmental outcomes.
While there’s no cure for ASD, early intervention services available under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act can dramatically improve a child’s development, including walking, talking, and interacting socially.
Treatment for autism spectrum disorder is highly individualized and involves a combination of therapies, services, and support. Although there are no medications that can treat the core symptoms of autism, medication may be used to improve functioning by helping individuals manage issues like seizures, depression, high energy levels, or difficulty focusing.
For the most part, treating ASD involves non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as: