How are Autism and Schizophrenia Alike or Different?

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A professor at UT Dallas is studying the differences and similarities between autism and schizophrenia to help create better strategies for both.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and schizophrenia are distinctly different social impairments with unique symptomology. Still, they share similarities. So much so that for years doctors had a hard differentiating between the two disorders.

Dr. Noah Sasson, assistant professor in the UT Dallas School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, has been comparing and contrasting. ASD can be seen early in life while schizophrenia occurs later in young adulthood. Schizophrenics experience hallucinations and delusional thoughts which is rarely true for autism.

Similarly, social cues are missed by both groups. There is difficulty identifying emotion. Often, they alienate other people because they misunderstand these cues. Sasson is attempting to understand the underlying mechanisms that make social interaction difficult for both autism and schizophrenia.

“Because the two disorders are different in so many ways it is likely that the basis for their social impairments differs as well,” Sasson explained. “Understanding the differences will be key for developing effective treatments. What works well for individuals with ASD might be very different than those with schizophrenia.”

Sasson has already discovered that both schizophrenics and those with ASD useeye tracking differently from those without either disorder. His team also found that the part of the brain that processes social information is underactive for both disorders. There are also differences. Those with ASD do not spontaneously adjust to emotional situations while schizophrenics do. Paranoia might be shared by both groups, but the cause is different.

Sasson hopes his team can find new ways to counteract the social isolation many in both groups experience.