Dr. Francesca Happé is an expert in the field of neurodevelopmental disorders and has written many books on autism, including The Danger Within Us: Emotion-Focused Therapy for Traumatized Children. She says sociopathy can be seen as a form of autistic behavior that mimics more mild forms of social disorder such as Asperger’s Syndrome or even high functioning autism but with much higher levels of aggression and emotional manipulation
Sociopathy, commonly known as antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), is a mental condition in which a person exhibits a constant lack of morality and ethics. Because they are unable to understand other people’s feelings and inherent rights, persons with ASPD are aggressive and manipulative, with little remorse for their actions.
Because ASPD and autism spectrum disease (ASD) both feature emotional difficulties and limits, they are often mistaken or misdiagnosed. Learn about the symptoms of ASPD, the reasons of the disorder, how it’s diagnosed, and how it varies from ASD.
People with ASPD are skilled at manipulating people using their charm or charisma, typically for personal benefit or enjoyment. They have no qualms about exploiting or taking advantage of others. They have no compulsions regarding lying, cheating, or stealing since they are unable to comprehend how deceptive activity might harm them.
Criminal activity is common among people with ASPD, owing to their lack of understanding of the laws and social standards that apply to them. People with sociopathy are prone to lying, acting rashly and aggressively when they don’t get their way, and abusing drugs or alcohol. Many people with ASPD find it very difficult to work or go to school.
Chronic relationship troubles (but never admitting culpability in the problems or the termination of relationships) and a reluctance to accept any type of aid or therapy are further indications of ASPD (unless they believe they can use the offer of help for their own needs).
Although certain symptoms of ASPD may fade with time, sociopathy is typically a permanent illness.
ASPD’s Potential Causes
Antisocial personality disorder is unknown to experts, although many studies think it is caused by a combination of the following variables.
- Environmental factors have an impact. Environmental factors have been linked to the development of ASPD, such as a violent or disturbed home and family life. Children who grow up in environments with little to no parental supervision may acquire ASPD as a survival strategy, considering the rest of the world as a hostile environment where the only way to survive is to exploit others.
Furthermore, children who grow up in environments where good conduct is seldom praised or where antisocial behavior seems to be rewarded are more likely to acquire sociopathic tendencies as adults.
- Factors that are biological or genetic. Biological and genetic aspects were also taken into account. ASPD seems to be genetic, according to researchers, maybe as a result of a kid growing up in an abusive environment and then passing those genes on to their children.
- Anatomy of the brain This is related to one of the other proposed reasons of sociopathy, which is brain structure. Different frontal lobes, which are the parts of the brain that control judgment and planning, are present in people with this condition. Changes in the volume of the frontal lobes may make a patient more impulsive, unable to regulate their impulses and behavior, according to some study.
There’s no guarantee that persons with these brain structural differences will become sociopaths. Rather, neurobiologists believe that these differences are the outcome of traumatic life events, such as those experienced by those who grew up in abusive or neglectful environments. A change in brain structure may be more of a symptom than a cause of ASPD.
The Key Differences Between Sociopathy and Autism
ASPD has been compared to autism because it leads individuals to display little to no empathy (recognizing and connecting with another’s feelings) for others and patients to behave in ways that are difficult for others to comprehend.
The two situations, however, are completely distinct and should not be mistaken with one another. According to a Psychology Today article, although someone with autism may also have ASPD (or vice versa), the two illnesses are not interchangeable.
Early indicators of autism include developmental impairments in a child’s ability to speak and interact with others. Because many persons with autism have distinct personalities, there is seldom a one-size-fits-all approach to diagnosing the illness. However, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association clarifies that the main defining feature that educators, specialists, and caregivers should look for if they suspect a child has autism is a “persistent impairment in reciprocal communication and social interaction.”
For there to be adequate evidence to positively diagnose autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a child must exhibit the following signs:
- Initiating or reacting to social contacts takes longer and/or is more challenging.
- They have trouble combining verbal and nonverbal communication in their interactions with others.
- Relationships are difficult to form, maintain, and comprehend.
ASD and ASPD Relationships
Some individuals mistake autism with sociopathy or think that someone presenting this symptom of autism is showing evidence of sociopathy due to the difficulties in creating, sustaining, and comprehending the nature of interpersonal interactions.
People with ASPD, in particular, will struggle to demonstrate compassion, care, or concern for others, but the reasons for this are substantially different from those with autism. Someone with sociopathic tendencies is likely to see the whole world as a game they must win, with individuals as simple pieces to be used and discarded as needed.
Someone with ASPD is likely to be adept at reading others, which makes it easier to spot and exploit their flaws via deceit, intimidation, manipulation, or outright violence. They may be cruel on purpose to achieve what they want, and they don’t care about the people they harm.
In Both Situations, Emotions
None of this applies to a person with autism who may have trouble understanding other people’s emotions, much alone comprehending their flaws. A person with ASPD is selfish by nature. Autism is a disability in which a person is unable to properly share and express an emotional connection with another person in a manner that is mutually identifiable. This is in stark contrast to the self-centeredness of someone with ASPD, who is completely unaware of what they are doing or saying and doesn’t seem to mind.
People with autism might feel upset and even hostile when they don’t understand a person’s conduct or intentions, or when they can’t convey their own behavior or motivations to the people around them. This might be mistakenly likened to the rage shown by persons with ASPD when they don’t get their way, when others confront them, or when something occurs to undermine their self-perceived superiority.
According to the Psychology Today article, autism and antisocial personality disorder are “two separate disorders,” and that a person might exhibit traits of one but not the other. People with ASPD do not have autism by nature, and autism does not induce sociopathy.
A doctor (usually a mental health professional) will do a psychiatric examination and ask the patient questions about their medical history, symptoms, and behavior when diagnosing antisocial personality disorder. The doctor will pay close attention to the length, frequency, and severity of the behavior. This is due to the fact that ASPD, like many other illnesses, is a spectrum in and of itself. It’s conceivable that someone has a moderate type of ASPD that’s still bothersome and requires therapy, but requires a different level of care than someone with a more severe form.
There are five criteria by which a clinician may diagnose antisocial personality disorder, regardless of severity. These are the following:
- Interpersonal communication skills are lacking. The patient’s self-esteem must be based on personal pleasure, gain, or power; there is no genuine sense of empathy or intimacy with others; the patient’s goals ignore any potential negative impact on others; and the patient has no internal motivation to follow any sense of law, social rule, or ethics.
- Disinhibition and antagonism. They have no qualms about being manipulative, deceitful, cruel, or belligerent to anyone as long as they get their way; they can be extremely charming or seductive; they seek revenge for even the most inadvertent slights; and they have no sense of personal responsibility or accountability, breaking promises and professional, personal, and social obligations; and they act spontaneously and impulsively, with no remorse for how their actions affect others.
- Consistency. A doctor will inquire as to whether the patient has continuously demonstrated this conduct throughout their lives and in various scenarios. Someone who exhibits sociopathic conduct solely in certain situations may not have ASPD, but rather another disorder with similar characteristics.
- There’s no other way to explain it. The patient’s behavior is not due to any other cultural, social, or psychological factors. They would not fit these requirements if their conduct was normal for their mental development in the social or cultural milieu in which they lived, thus it is likely that they do not have ASPD. For a clinician to provide an ASPD diagnosis, this must be ruled out.
- There is no drug abuse or medical condition. The side effects of any controlled drugs or health difficulties, such as head trauma or any mental health illness, cannot be blamed for a patient’s conduct.
Treatment & the Future
The next step after a diagnosis of ASPD is therapy. Because individuals do not believe there is anything wrong with them or that they need assistance, ASPD is famously tough to treat. Many people hold mental health experts in low regard. Psychotherapy is one approach for helping persons with sociopathy manage their anger, aggressive conduct, and alcohol or drug use. Medications may also assist with some of the most disruptive or destructive behaviors, but there is no one-size-fits-all therapy for ASPD.
Antisocial personality disorder treatment is often a lengthy, difficult, and stressful process with numerous false beginnings. It has nothing to do with autism and isn’t even a kind of autism spectrum condition.
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Over a ten-year period, personality disorder risk factors for suicide attempts were discovered. (April 15, 2015) Personality Disorders are a kind of personality disorder.
Antisocial Personality Disorder: A Natural History (Aug. 2015) The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry is a peer-reviewed journal published in Canada.
Implications for Law in Antisocial People’s Brain Abnormalities (2008). The Law and the Behavioral sciences
The Debate Over Autism and Antisocial Personality Continues. (In May of 2020). Today’s Psychology.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a term used to describe (2013). The American Psychiatric Association is a professional association of psychiatrists.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder have emotional and behavioral issues (April 2013). The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders is a publication dedicated to the study of autism and developmental disorders.
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Results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions-III on the Epidemiology of Antisocial Behavioral Syndromes in Adulthood. (January of this year). The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry is a publication dedicated to clinical psychiatry. Development of a Practice-Focused Framework for the Treatment of Antisocial Personality Disorder. (June–July 2018). The International Journal of Law and Psychiatry is a publication dedicated to the study of law and psychiatry.
Janice is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Special Education. She also holds a Master of Science in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) from Queen’s University, Belfast. She has worked with and case managed children and youth with autism and other intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in home and residential setting since 2013.