In recent years, studies have shown an increasing connection between bipolar disorder and autism. The two conditions are believed to share some genetic causes and how having one of them can put you at greater risk of developing the other. In addition, bipolar disorder and autism share several of the same symptoms.

However, the two conditions are very different and require different methods of management and treatment. Therefore, it is important to understand the differences between the two and to speak with a mental health professional to get a proper diagnosis.

Similarities Between Bipolar Disorder and Autism

Bipolar disorder and autism have a frequent incidence of comorbidity. People who have autism are three times as likely to develop bipolar disorder than the general population. In addition, roughly 30 percent of people with bipolar disorder I also suffer from some form of autism. Although the research is still developing on the subject, scientists have discovered some genetic connections between bipolar and autism which may help explain the high degree of crossover between the two conditions.

Similarly, both bipolar disorder and autism share several key symptoms which can make a diagnosis of one or both conditions difficult. Some of the most common overlapping symptoms include:

    • Hyperactivity and restlessness
    • Irritability and agitation
    • Impulsivity
    • Disturbed Sleep
    • Depressed mood
    • Social withdrawal
    • Racing thoughts and difficulty concentrating

Major Differences Between Bipolar Disorder and Autism

Despite these notable links between the two, bipolar disorder and autism are entirely different conditions. For starters, bipolar disorder is a psychiatric illness and autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Because of this, those with autism often develop symptoms in the first three years of their life while bipolar symptoms can arise at any time.

Another major difference between the two is that bipolar disorder involves mood changes, as the patient cycles between extreme lows and highs. Any mood traits exhibited by autistic people, by contrast, are constant and mood is generally not a factor in diagnosing autism. This difference in mood stability can be one of the key factors in differentiating between the conditions during diagnosis.

Because of these differences, the treatment of bipolar disorder is considerably different from that of autism. Bipolar treatment typically involves medication, most commonly a mood stabilizer such as lithium, as well as an antipsychotic or antidepressant. Cognitive therapy is also frequently a part of the treatment.

Although antidepressants and other drugs are sometimes prescribed to autistic patients, these pharmaceuticals are generally a secondary part of the treatment plan. The condition is commonly managed with different forms of non-medical therapies such as behavioral therapy, developmental and play therapies, and social skills training.

Be Sure to Get a Proper Diagnosis

If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from bipolar disorder or autism, it is important to speak with a mental health professional as soon as possible. Because of the similarities between the two conditions, only a trained professional can help you receive the proper diagnosis and set you on the path to health.

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