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Social Challenges in Autism, Schizophrenia Have Different Roots

Social Challenges in Autism, Schizophrenia Have Different Roots  As medical knowledge has expanded over the past decades, the differences between autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and schizophrenia appear clear-cut. But both disorders share similar social dysfunctions, a commonality that lead to a new research study by Noah Sasson, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at Dallas.

Historically, many young people with ASD were thought to have a childhood version of schizophrenia because of their social deficits. Sasson points out that symptoms of ASD can be seen from very early in life, while the onset of schizophrenia typically occurs in young adulthood. And individuals who have schizophrenia often experience hallucinations and delusional thoughts, which are rare in individuals with ASD.

Both groups have problems with social interaction and recognition of social cues. They often have difficulty identifying emotion in other people, so their reactions may seem inappropriate.

For adults with ASD or schizophrenia, the inability to perceive subtle cues in interactions may alienate other people, limiting friendship development or camaraderie.

In the research study, Sasson and colleagues compare the basis for social interaction impairments between adults with ASD and adults with schizophrenia — trying to understand the mechanisms that underlie their social limitations.

“Because the two disorders are different in so many ways, it is likely that the basis for their social impairments differs as well,” he said.

“Understanding these differences will be key for developing effective treatments. What works well for individuals with ASD might be very different than those with schizophrenia.”

In previous research, Sasson and his colleagues found that neither adults with ASD nor adults with schizophrenia look at social information in the same way as those without either disorder.

His colleagues also found that parts of the brain that process social information are underactive in those with ASD and schizophrenia.

However, researchers have also found significant differences between the two disorders. Individuals with ASD do not spontaneously orient to emotional information, while individuals with schizophrenia do.

While both groups show aspects of paranoia in social situations, Sasson and his colleagues are discovering that the root cause of the paranoia is different for each disorder.

“People with schizophrenia have a much higher likelihood than the general population to attribute ill will to others, and this is likely tied to their delusions,” he said. “On the other hand, people with autism are more ‘socially cynical.’ They seem to be exhibiting fairly realistic responses to people as a result of the challenges they’ve faced in life because of their condition.”

Sasson and his colleagues believe observation of individuals’ reaction in social settings will help researchers develop new strategies to counteract negative social experiences.

If successful, the new approach could significantly improve the quality of life for the individuals.

Source: University of Texas at Dallas

Upset young man photo by shutterstock.

Social Challenges in Autism, Schizophrenia Have Different Roots

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Social Challenges in Autism, Schizophrenia Have Different Roots. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 29 Feb 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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