The Fine Line Between Social Anxiety Disorder & Autism

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The Fine Line Between Social Anxiety Disorder & Autism

Social anxiety disorder and autism may appear similar on the surface. But like anything, there are two sides to a picture. The confusion occurs because of the almost-identical signs autistic people and individuals undergoing SAD have.

Before we delve deeper into the similarities and dissimilarities, let’s look into what these disorders are.


Read Also: ADHD and Relationships – How to Make Them Work?


What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a mental health condition that involves excessive fear of being judged or watched by others. This fear is so overwhelming that it comes in the way of regular social interactions, causing a person to retreat in their shell and fear even a normal conversation.


What Is Autism?

Autism is a set of neurodevelopment disorders that cause development delays, including speech, social interaction, and communication. Autism is characterized by underdeveloped social skills, repetitive behaviors, and nonverbal communication.


Similarities Between Social Anxiety Disorder and Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD) may present differently in different individuals. However, there are several similarities in the shape of symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment method.

Educational psychologist and therapist Richelle Whittaker evaluated the similar symptoms present in both disorders, which include:

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Being nervous
  • Facing challenges with sudden change of plans
  • Limited social interaction


Both autism and social anxiety disorder can be diagnosed with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5).

DSM-5 is a handbook published by the American Psychiatric Association. This handbook proves helpful for healthcare professionals to diagnose conditions.


What Differentiates Social Anxiety Disorder from Autism?

Despite the similar symptoms, the major differentiator of autism is that it’s a neurodevelopmental disorder. On the other hand, SAD is a mental health condition.

Proper diagnosis of the two conditions unveils the distinct differentiating points. So, even though avoiding direct eye contact is a similar symptom in both, health professionals will find that  people with autism often do not  attempt eye contact in the first place.. People with social anxiety disorder tend to avoid eye contact due to fear or anxiety. Further researches have also suggested that autistic people look towards a person more slowly than people with social anxiety disorder.

People with autism also tend to feel little need to communicate with others or to engage in one-sided conversations. Again, this is a major differentiating factor compared with social anxiety disorder, where people avoid conversations because of being afraid or nervous.


Treatment for Autism

Since one is a neurodevelopment condition and the other is a mental health condition, there isn’t a definite cure for either. But contrary to popular belief, people with both conditions can live healthy, productive lives given support to reach their goals.

Many treatment and support options are implied for ASD to improve the healthy outlook, including:

  • Social skills training
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Occupational therapy


Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder

People with social anxiety disorder tend to have major avoidance of crowds, fearing even a single interaction. This can be treated along with providing support through:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Appropriate medication


The Final Word

Given the clear-cut dis-similarities, there’s no reason to doubt that autism and social anxiety disorder  are different disorders.

A person can be diagnosed with one or both conditions simultaneously. But autism usually appears in early childhood. Social anxiety disorder can present both in childhood or adulthood.

An important point to remember is that no two people can experience the same condition in the same way.  As a result, interventions and supporitive measures need to be customized for the individual.

At Central Florida Neuropsychology, we have expert therapists and mental health counselors who treat all patients with the respect and dignity they deserve. If you’d like to know more about our services or need support, we’d love to connect.

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