Have You Been Misdiagnosed? 8 Disorders That May Be Confused with Autism

If you have received a diagnosis that doesn’t seem to fit you or explain everything about why you struggle, it is entirely possible that you have an autism spectrum disorder that went undetected or misdiagnosed as something else entirely. This is especially common among adults, girls, and women; years ago, we weren’t as good at detecting and diagnosing autism, and it’s commonly believed that girls and women fall through the diagnostic cracks because their autism presents itself differently than in boys and men. As a result, autism may not be the first thing a clinician thinks of when hearing about your symptoms.

If this is the case for you, you are not alone; many individuals on the spectrum receive an incorrect diagnosis before being correctly identified as autistic. And if this is the case for you, you may consider going to a doctor and talking about it.

Here are eight different disorders you may have been incorrectly diagnosed with—as well as how they overlap or appear to overlap with autism symptoms. Let it be noted, however, that it is also possible for all of these disorders to appear alongside of autism—a phenomenon known as co-morbidity. It therefore may be possible that you have more than one condition.

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Adobe Stock/pressmaster

8. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

This is a big one. ADD/ADHD and autism are sort of like cousin disorders, in that they share a great deal of symptoms. That includes problems with executive functioning (carrying out a task from start to finish), hyperactivity and impulsivity, sensory sensitivities, and social struggles. The key difference between the two disorders? Those with ASD tend to struggle more with social situations due to their lack of ability to read other people, and they tend to be more rigid and upset by change in routine.

7. Social Anxiety Disorder

People with autism may have social anxiety, but it is often for a very good and rational reason: they have often been bullied and they struggle to perceive what others are thinking or feeling, which makes social interactions very confusing and fraught with danger. For those who experience social anxiety disorder, on the other hand, it tends to be irrational and “all in their head,” so to speak.

Adobe Stock/yanlev
Adobe Stock/yanlev

6. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Another common co-morbid disorder among autistic people is GAD. Many people with autism experience anxiety due to sensory overload, change in routine, socialization, and other issues. As such, the anxiety may be identified but not the autism.

5. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

It makes a lot of sense as to why OCD gets confused with autism. Inherent to OCD is compulsions and obsessive behaviors. This doesn’t sound too different from a common aspect of autism, but the reasons for engaging in these behaviors are totally different; OCD compulsions arise from obsessive thoughts and illogical motives, whereas the rituals of autistic people do not.

Adobe Stock/Subbotina Anna
Adobe Stock/Subbotina Anna

4. Schizophrenia

Typically when we think of schizophrenia, we think of hearing voices and seeing things that aren’t there. But that’s not the only symptom of schizophrenia; it can also be characterized by lack of attention, flat affect, social withdrawal, struggles with theory of mind, and disorganized speech. Some autistics who have been incorrectly diagnosed with schizophrenia also misunderstood their psychiatrists when asked if they “heard voices,” thinking they meant “hearing when other people speak” rather than “hearing voices that aren’t there.”

3. Depression

This mental illness commonly appears alongside ASD, so it’s no wonder depression may be detected while autism is not. Due to some of the challenges of autism—the social struggles and isolation that naturally follows, for example—those who have the disorder may fall into depression.

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Adobe Stock/roooaar.de

2. Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is often characterized by dramatic mood swings, from mania to depression. Many people with autism also have bipolar disorder, but the two disorders can also be mixed up due to some of their similarities. For example, symptoms of mania include reduced sense of danger, inability to sleep, impulsivity, aggressiveness, and irritability—symptoms that can also be present among those on the spectrum.

1. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

BPD, most commonly diagnosed in women, is also a potential co-morbid disorder as well as one that can be misdiagnosed in people with autism. Some symptoms of BPD that could be confused with autism include unstable relationships, self-harm, impulsivity, and problems controlling anger.

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