Co-Occurring Disorders (Co-morbidity)

Breakthrough by Donna Williams
Breakthrough by Donna Williams

Many people on the autistic spectrum are obsessive and have obsessive interests. This personality trait is called Obsessive Compulsive Personality and is often wrongly confused with OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Those with Obsessive Compulsive personality do not suffer from having this, it is part of them, often gladly. Those with the compulsive disorder of OCD often suffer from this involuntary disorder and some who have it severely can be severely depressed, even suicidal because of it. OCD, the tic disorder of Tourette's and mood disorders like Rapid Cycling Bipolar and Depression commonly co-occur in people on the autistic spectrum and may be indistinguishable from things that are labelled their 'autism'. A conservative estimate is that around 30% of people on the spectrum may have these co-morbid conditions. Those with untreated bipolar run a 15-20% risk of committing suicide. A range of personality disorders can also occur in people with autism, especially Avoidant, Schizoid, Schizotypal and Dependent personality disorders and more recently a number of books have addressed Narcissistic personality disorder in children to distinguish it from Asperger's without co-occurring NPD.  There are also dissociative disorders such as depersonalisation, derealisation, dissociation which those with autism experience more commonly than the general population and which may predispose them to things like Exposure Anxiety, and, under circumstances like chronic bullying, PTSD.

Medication may help for some co-morbid conditions but may not help with dissociative or personality disorders.  Clearly it is not for any person on the spectrum to dictate to those requiring medication that they shouldn't take it. Just because two people share an autism spectrum diagnosis doesn't mean that the conditions underpinning that diagnosis are exactly the same. Whilst medication does not treat autism, treating severe co-morbid mood, anxiety and compulsive disorders may sometimes dramatically reduce the apparent severity of some people's autism. Whilst many people feel they don't 'suffer' from their autism spectrum condition, these people have to acknowledge that those with untreated severe co-morbid conditions which have been labelled 'part of their autism' often do truly suffer as a result of this oversight. This section may help people understand that diversity. I have also written a number of books on the subject of co-occurring disorders in those with autism.