Untangling the ties between autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder
At first glance, autism and OCD appear to have little in common. Yet clinicians and researchers have found an overlap between the two. Studies indicate that up to 84 percent of autistic people have some form of anxiety; as much as 17 percent may specifically have OCD. And an even larger proportion of people with OCD may also have undiagnosed autism, according to one 2017 study.
Part of that overlap may reflect misdiagnoses: OCD rituals can resemble the repetitive behaviors common in autism, and vice versa. But it’s increasingly evident that many people, like Slavin, have both conditions. People with autism are twice as likely as those without to be diagnosed with OCD later in life, according to a 2015 study that tracked the health records of nearly 3.4 million people in Denmark over 18 years. Similarly, people with OCD are four times as likely as typical individuals to later be diagnosed with autism, according to the same study.
In the past decade, researchers have begun to study these two conditions together to work out how they interact — and how they differ. Those distinctions could be important not only for making correct diagnoses but also for choosing effective treatments. People who have both OCD and autism appear to have unique experiences, distinct from those of either condition on its own. And for these people, standard interventions for OCD, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), may provide little relief.