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Sociopathy vs Autism: Understanding the Differences

When Vanessa’s 8-year-old boy, Kyle, continuously showed a lack of empathy, she started worrying. “Does he have sociopathy?” she wondered. Do autistic children show compassion differently? What is the sociopathy vs. autism controversy all about? 

As many parents probably wonder the same, Vanessa isn’t alone in her worries. In this article, we delve into the intricacies of the “sociopathy vs. autism” controversy, exploring both conditions in detail. Let’s learn more about their differences together.

Sociopathy vs Autism: Understanding the Differences
https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/sociopath-vs-autism/

What is Sociopathy?

Sociopathy and psychopathy are often incorrectly used interchangeably in the media. These terms are part of the umbrella diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). Psychopaths and sociopaths have similar traits, such as breaking laws, acting in ways that go against social norms, and feeling little to no guilt or empathy.

This condition is only diagnosed at the age of 18 years. Children diagnosed with a conduct disorder, such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), could develop longer-lasting maladaptive antisocial behaviors that could qualify them for a diagnosis of ASPD.

There are some key traits that persons diagnosed with ASPD display, such as a lack of anxiety in stressful situations, no remorse when they are caught and questioned if they broke the law, hurt someone, or something, and a sense of entitlement throughout.

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The list of negative traits continues and is continuously added to diagnostic manuals and the media. Not only that, but we often hear people’s experiences in relationships with or as parents of individuals diagnosed with psychopathic and sociopathic traits.

The main question is why it’s hard to diagnose people with certain personality traits early and help them change. One reason is that there are some positive aspects to these traits. Another reason is that even if people are diagnosed, they often don’t think they need therapy or want to change.

When you think of a “typical psychopath,” your mind probably starts scanning through some horrific Netflix series you have watched or famous serial killers. Seeing that roughly only 1-3% of the population is diagnosed with psychopathy or sociopathy, you might be surprised to know that many are undiagnosed and highly successful.

They can be exceptionally charming and are usually extremely intelligent, witty, and engaging. These individuals can come across as caring when they have the need or even be the hero on a white horse to various charities.

The trickery of their acts for their gain is often overlooked by the naive and/or grateful recipient. The true nature of the psychopath or sociopath will only reveal itself when their wishes are not granted, or their agenda is not met. The obstacles will be dealt with harshly, cold-heartedly, quickly and effectively.

Before I add too much to the negative media portrayal, it is essential to note that there is a crucial difference between psychopaths and sociopaths. Psychopaths are born psychopaths. Some research found these traits to be genetic, and psychopathy and/or psychopathic traits can be traced back to other family members, especially the fathers.

Sociopaths, on the other hand, are made. They have a history of trauma or child abuse and often a family history of this abuse dating back to previous generations. Another important note is that anyone can progress, gain insights, and learn more successful coping skills, no matter their diagnosis. The critical factor is to seek support, and this is often not evident in a person diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder.

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition characterized by various symptoms and behaviors. It is essential to grasp that autism is not a single entity but a spectrum encompassing many traits and manifestations.

The diagnostic criteria for autism involve persistent challenges in social interaction, communication, and restrictive or repetitive behaviors. These criteria, as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), serve as the gold standard for identifying individuals with ASD.

Autism is not a one-size-fits-all condition. It manifests differently in each individual, leading to diverse experiences. Some individuals with ASD may have exceptional abilities in specific areas, such as mathematics or music, while others may face significant challenges in daily life.


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Sociopathy vs Autism: Symptoms They Share

To answer this question, I will describe the similarities between Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and an autism spectrum disorder. If a child is diagnosed with ODD, the chances increase of a possible ASPD diagnosis later in life. This does not mean every child diagnosed with ODD will receive an ASPD diagnosis as an adult. Still, it does mean that an adult who receives an ASPD diagnosis most probably had an ODD diagnosis or displayed definite traits of a conduct disorder.

Oppositional defiant disorder is when a child engages in dangerous and maladaptive behaviors from a young age, such as hurting animals, peers, or siblings, setting fires, breaking items, and generally not showing any signs of remorse.

Some similarities between autistic children and those diagnosed with ODD are that they might be disruptive in social settings and act out if they don’t “get their way.” These groups might seem like they are not empathetic to feelings of disappointment or sadness from peers or family members. As mentioned before, if your child starts laughing when you are angry about a broken plate or glass, it might worry you as you feel they are not showing empathy.

Sociopathy vs Autism: Their Key Differences

There is an important sociopathy vs. autism difference: individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder are often exceptionally empathetic but struggle immensely with anxiety in understanding, coping with, and regulating social constructs. Although many can understand a systematic construct, they might not understand why they are suddenly not allowed to walk away from the table, as the rules change when guests arrive. If they are in public, they must speak differently than at home.

These rules and changes in routine need to be clearly explained to them and practiced. If an autistic person, whether they are still young or in adulthood, understands the reasoning behind a change, has time to prepare for it, and can practice it safely and predictably, they will feel less anxious and, thus, exhibit more adaptive behaviors and responses.

In contrast, children diagnosed with ODD, who possibly later get a diagnosis of ASPD as an adult, engage in these behaviors as they are hindered by any anxiety and determined to get their way. They cannot feel anxiety the same as other people, as there is a difference in their automatic nervous system. These physiological differences make it difficult to understand the reason behind empathy, respect, and love for others.

Additionally, in social interactions, those with autism may face challenges but generally desire connection and friendship, while sociopaths often manipulate social situations for their benefit. 

Another distinguishing factor is seen in repetitive behaviors: autistic individuals may engage in self-soothing behaviors, while sociopaths exhibit impulsive and sometimes destructive behaviors. Moreover, the response to therapy varies significantly. Autism tends to respond well to various therapeutic interventions, including behavioral and speech therapy, whereas antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), which includes sociopathy, is more challenging to treat.

How to Treat Sociopathic Behavior?

Usually, individuals diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder include “psychopaths” and “sociopaths,” as previously explained. These persons have shown to do best with psychotherapy and medication.

Psychotherapy or “talk therapy” could provide opportunities to implement strategies to work on anger management or possible addictions. Medication usually includes an antidepressant and a mood stabilizer. These interventions are carefully monitored for adults by their psychiatrist and should be discussed and reviewed regularly. 

In recent years, studies have shown promising results with introducing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for children diagnosed with ODD. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy might include strategies such as restructuring, problem-solving, relaxation training, and verbal meditation.

These strategies have shown positive results in children diagnosed with ODD in their mood and behavior. Doing it consistently and for long periods could lead to positive coping skills and decrease the chances of the child developing maladaptive and long-lasting antisocial behaviors.

Sociopathy vs Autism: Understanding the Differences
https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/sociopath-vs-autism/

Conclusion

It’s important to seek professional medical advice when you suspect your child engages in sociopathic behaviors consistently. As discussed, your child might receive a conduct disorder diagnosis if they qualify for the set of traits, which should be monitored into adulthood for signs of antisocial tendencies.

Any diagnosis, especially for our children, can be scary. If we search Google for answers, we might become more fearful. If there is anything I urge parents to take from this article, it is that no matter what condition your child might or might not have, there is support for you and your child. Make sure you speak to a doctor and get a second opinion. When it comes to your child – you are a true expert. Regardless of diagnosis, they are still your baby boy or girl.

FAQs

Q: Can sociopathy and autism coexist in one individual?

A: It is theoretically possible for someone to have sociopathy and autism. However, such cases are extremely rare and require careful evaluation by mental health professionals.

Q: Are there effective treatments for sociopathy and autism?

A: Treatment approaches for sociopathy and autism differ significantly. Sociopathy is challenging to treat, while autism interventions often focus on improving social and communication skills through different therapy approaches.

Q: Can sociopathy be diagnosed in childhood?

A: While the signs of sociopathy may emerge in childhood, a formal diagnosis is typically made in adulthood when the symptoms become more pronounced and persistent.

Q: Is there a cure for autism?

A: Autism is a lifelong condition, and there is no cure. However, early intervention and tailored therapies can help individuals with autism lead fulfilling lives.

Q: How can I support a loved one with sociopathy or autism?

A: Supporting individuals with sociopathy or autism requires patience, understanding, and professional guidance. Seek advice from mental health experts and advocacy organizations to ensure the best possible care and support.

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