Asperger syndrome and OCD are two different neurological disorders with some similarities. There is some confusion over the definition of the two disorders, especially since a person can have both Asperger’s syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Learn the similarities and differences between Aspergers and OCD.
Definitions of Asperger Syndrome and OCD
Asperger syndrome and OCD are both neurological disorders characterized by obsessive and repetitive behaviors.
Asperger’s syndrome is one of five pervasive developmental disorders, along with autism, that involve impairments in language, communication and social skills. A person with Aspergers may participate in obsessive and repetitive behaviors and gets upset if strict routines or complex rituals are interrupted.
Examples of obsessive behavior in AS are spinning objects, rocking back and forth or memorizing every detail of the US highway system map. Aspergers is often diagnosed in early childhood.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a neurological disorder that stems from anxiety. A person has obsessive thoughts and compulsions to participate in obsessive and repetitive behavior that can involve complex and unusual rituals. If he cannot participate in a ritual, he experiences great fear and discomfort. Examples of OCD behaviors are excessive hand washing, repetitively checking locks, irrationally hoarding objects and counting rituals. The behavior generally centers on a specific anxiety. The behavior can get in the way of daily living, if untreated. OCD is generally diagnosed in late adolescence or adulthood.
Similarities Between Aspergers and OCD
Aspergers and OCD share the following similarities:
- Obsessive behaviors or obsessive interests
- Repetitive behaviors
- Self-stimulating behaviors or stimming such as hand flapping, twirling or head banging (However, some experts argue that similar behavior in OCD is not really stimming but instead a part of an OCD ritual.)
- Unusual rituals
- Strict routines
- Focus on unusual object or activity for hours, which can seem like an obsession
- Anxiety when a ritual or routine is interrupted and may make the rest of the day’s activities difficult for him to participate in.
- Participating in the ritual or routine helps regulate behavior to some degree.
Differences Between Aspergers and OCD
There is a major difference in what compels a person with Aspergers or autism to participate in obsessive behavior or repetitive rituals and the motivation of a person with OCD. Anxiety is not the driving force behind repetitive behaviors, but it can alleviate feelings of anxiety. Just as someone may bite his nails when he is anxious, a person with AS may engage in repetitive behaviors. He does not seem to care what others think of his behavior or feel bad or about any compulsions. When he gets upset over an interrupted ritual or routine, his frustration may stem from being deprived of a pleasurable activity, not a necessarily a fear of what will happen. Obsessions in Aspergers and autism are not always viewed as undesired behavior. Parents and therapists may even create learning situations that utilize an obsession with a favorite topic to help a child with AS learn new things. For example, a child who is obsessed with trains may respond better to any new activity or idea that includes his favorite subject. A person with Aspergers who is obsessed with computer code may turn his obsession into a computer career.
A person with OCD is generally driven to the obsessive behavior by anxiety and a fear that something bad will happen if he does not complete the repetitive ritual. He often feels ashamed of the compulsive behavior and worries what others think about it.
Can a Person Have Both Aspergers and OCD?
A person can be diagnosed with both Asperger Syndrome and OCD. In fact, it is common for a person with AS or autism to also have an additional neurological or behavioral disorder. One way to recognize the difference between the obsessive and stimming behavior of Aspergers versus OCD behavior is whether the behavior is driven by great anxiety.
Generally, doctors can diagnosis both conditions, if present, during the initial autism screening. However, if anyone suspects a loved one with Aspergers has developed OCD and remain undiagnosed, seek diagnosis and treatment immediately. Call the loved one’s doctor or a local autism support organization for assistance and doctor recommendations.
Aspergers and OCD share many similarities but have significant differences. It is important for anyone suspecting Aspergers or OCD to seek a diagnosis. Left untreated, the two conditions can make social interaction difficult. Many modern medical options can treat both conditions and lessen any undesired symptoms. The right treatment plan can help an affected individual to live a fulfilling and productive life.
For more information on Asperger’s syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder, visit the Online Aspergers Information and Support (OASIS) website for Aspergers information and the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation (OCF) website for details on OCD.