Schizophrenia and Autism

Researchers have long thought that there is a link between schizophrenia and autism, two psychiatric disorders that can share clinical features such as social withdrawal, difficulty with communication, and poor eye contact. In fact, children with autism were included under the category of schizophrenia in the DSM-II. While autism and schizophrenia are now considered two separate diagnoses, there are notable similarities that keep researchers interested in the question of how they may be related.

Thanks to new technology, there has been much research in recent years on possible genetic causes of schizophrenia and autism. What these researchers are finding is that both disorders appear to be caused by genetic mutations in areas of the genome important for brain development. Some specific gene deletions have been associated with both schizophrenia and autism, and the DISC1 gene (disrupted in schizophrenia 1) has been linked to both schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders. Other studies have found that schizophrenia and autism are both associated with accelerated brain development near the age of symptom onset (during adolescence for schizophrenia and during the first 3 years of life for autism).

The relationship between schizophrenia and autism remains unclear, but there is enough genetic, clinical, and physical overlap between the two disorders for many researchers to believe that there is some link. Learning more about their similarities and differences could help diagnose and treat people with one or both of the disorders, and even aid in preventing them from developing in the first place.

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