Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition while obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder. Both affect a person’s behavior. Some people may question if they have OCD or autism as 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 17% of people with ASD also have OCD. This is higher than the percentage of people with OCD in the general population.

Read on to learn more about ASD and OCD, and their similarities and differences.

Two children playing in circles, representing children with OCD and autism.Share on Pinterest
Ani Dimi/Stocksy

ASD is a developmental condition. This means that symptoms generally develop before a child is 2 years old. However, a person can be diagnosed with ASD at any age.

ASD can affect how a person:

  • interacts with other people
  • behaves
  • communicates
  • learns

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that around 1 in 44 children are diagnosed with ASD.

Learn more about autism here.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) notes that OCD is a common mental health condition. OCD can cause uncontrollable reoccurring thoughts and behaviors.

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.

Learn more about OCD here.

OCD and ASD are two different conditions. However, both disorders can have similar symptoms, such as:

Repeating certain behaviorsYesYes
Ritualistic behaviorsYesYes
Obsessive thoughtsYesNo
Obsessive interestsNoYes
Trouble identifying emotional cuesNoYes
Difficulty with social interactions or communicationYesYes
Sensitivity to sensory input, such as sounds or lightsYesYes

OCD and ASD frequently occur together. Research from 2015 found that 17% of autistic people also had OCD. The rate of OCD in the general population is 1.6%.

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:

Repetitive behaviors

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
  • rocking
  • finger flicking
  • jumping
  • spinning
  • 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 may also experience obsessions. These may involve interests in specific areas, such as numbers or facts.

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 lead to difficulties in social communication.

A person with OCD may also find it difficult to understand social cues. A 2020 review found that people with OCD had a reduction in their ability to perceive social cues. This reduction was specifically related to expressions of disgust and the processing of facial emotions.

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.

Learn more about the different types of autism.

Yes, healthcare professionals can misdiagnose OCD as autism, and vice versa, due to an overlap of symptoms.

A 2021 study looked into the childhood diagnoses of adults later diagnosed with ASD. Researchers noted that children with autism might have symptoms mistaken for other conditions, such as OCD.

Additionally, children with both conditions may have had their symptoms attributed to only one condition.

ASD diagnosis

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 2 years old, although a person can be diagnosed at any age.

Learn more about the criteria for diagnosing autism.

OCD diagnosis

A mental health professional can diagnose a person with OCD by looking for a history of:

  • obsessions
  • 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.

OCD treatment

Treatments for OCD include:

Learn more about the best medication for OCD symptoms.

ASD treatment

If a person requires treatment for ASD symptoms, a healthcare professional may use medication to treat specific symptoms.

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 can affect all aspects of a person’s life.

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.