Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that can affect a person’s behavior. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that affects thoughts and behaviors. These conditions can have an overlap in symptoms.
ASD and OCD can sometimes have similar symptoms. However, they are different conditions.
Research from 2015 found that
Read on to learn more about ASD and OCD, and their similarities and differences.
ASD is a developmental condition. This means that symptoms
ASD can affect how a person:
- interacts with other people
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) notes that OCD is a
A person with OCD may experience intrusive thoughts or feel compelled to carry out certain behaviors. These thoughts and behaviors can be distressing, causing anxiety if not carried out.
OCD and ASD are two different conditions. However, both disorders can have similar symptoms, such as:
|Repeating certain behaviors||Yes||Yes|
|Trouble identifying emotional cues||No||Yes|
|Difficulty with social interactions or communication||Yes||Yes|
|Sensitivity to sensory input, such as sounds or lights||Yes||Yes|
OCD and ASD frequently occur together. Research from 2015 found that
Further research from 2020 estimated that 17%–37% of young autistic people also had OCD symptoms. Additionally, researchers found that around 25% of young people with OCD also had a diagnosis of ASD.
There are several similarities between OCD and ASD. These similarities include the following:
People with OCD may feel compelled to carry out certain behaviors. This may include:
- repeated washing and cleaning
- repeating certain movements
- repeatedly carrying out specific activities
- rereading or rewriting
Autistic people may also carry out repetitive behaviors. This is known as stimming. An autistic person may stim for enjoyment or to deal with stress or anxiety.
The United Kingdom’s National Autistic Society notes that types of stim include:
- hand flapping
- finger flicking
- repeating words or noises
A person who has OCD may experience obsessive, intrusive thoughts.
Obsessive thoughts that can occur due to OCD include:
- fear of sickness or contamination with germs
- fear of hurting themselves or others
- violent or horrific images appearing in their minds
- obsessive concern over order or performing tasks “correctly”
- unwanted sexual thoughts or images
- excessively concerned about blasphemy, sexuality, or their gender
- obsessive concern about death
Autistic people can also become “stuck” on certain topics of interest. This means they dwell on, or repeatedly express specific thoughts. This may lead to a person finding it difficult to talk about other subjects.
Difficulty with social situations
It can be hard for an autistic person to understand certain social cues or facial expressions. This can
A person with OCD may also find it difficult to understand social cues. A
Although both OCD and ASD have similar symptoms, they are different conditions. OCD is a mental health disorder, whereas ASD is a developmental condition.
ASD is a condition that a person is born with. OCD can develop during a person’s lifetime.
People with OCD tend to feel compelled to perform repetitive behaviors due to anxiety or distress, whereas autistic people may perform repetitive behaviors for enjoyment or to gain sensory input.
Yes, healthcare professionals can misdiagnose OCD as autism, and vice versa, due to an overlap of symptoms.
Additionally, children with both conditions may have had their symptoms attributed to only one condition.
A healthcare professional can diagnose ASD by assessing a person’s behavior and development. Experts can reliably make a diagnosis by the time a child is
Learn more about the criteria for diagnosing autism.
A mental health professional can diagnose a person with OCD by looking for a history of:
- compulsive behavior
- obsessions and compulsions that take up time and get in the way of the person’s life
Healthcare professionals treat OCD and ASD in different ways.
Some people may not feel they need treatment for their autism. Others may find that certain symptoms of ASD improve with treatment.
Treatments for OCD
- medication, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) or antipsychotics.
- psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).
- transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain.
Learn more about the best medication for OCD symptoms.
If a person requires treatment for ASD symptoms, a healthcare professional
Additionally, symptoms of ASD may improve with behavioral, physiological, or skill-building interventions.
A person can speak to a healthcare professional if they think they, or their child, may have ASD. A healthcare professional can check if a person’s symptoms are due to ASD or a result of another condition.
If someone thinks they have OCD, they should speak with their doctor or mental health professional. Without treatment, OCD
OCD and ASD can have similar symptoms. However, they are two different conditions.
Symptoms of OCD can cause extreme anxiety and distress. Some ASD symptoms can provide a person with enjoyment or pleasure.
Due to their similarities, healthcare professionals can misdiagnose OCD and ASD as each other. It is important for a person to receive diagnosis for the correct condition. Misdiagnosis can lead to a person not receiving the correct treatment.
If a person thinks they may have ASD or OCD, they should speak with a doctor or mental health professional.