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Understanding The Difference Between Autism and Narcissism

September 4, 2023

Understanding The Difference Between Autism and Narcissism https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/understanding-autism-narcissism/

When autistic children are interested in something and talk about it constantly, parents and others wonder if autism and narcissism are linked. Although having a passion and discussing it with others is great, especially when they listen, but would that qualify that individual as a narcissist?

It can be daunting when little Johnny or Susie are talking about the latest information they found about dinosaurs and have talked about it for the past three days in a row. Add siblings that want to talk about other topics or what happened that day, feelings can be hurt, and someone may feel unheard.

Is this really narcissistic personality disorder? When a child is talking only about what they want to, even going as far as interrupting other conversations or ignoring what others are saying can seem selfish and self-centered, but there may be other underlying reasons for this behavior.

What Is Narcissism?

Narcissistic personality disorder traits include:

  • a grandiose sense of self-importance
  • self-absorbed
  • overly critical of others
  • inflated sense of self-worth
  • feel superior while devaluing others
  • lack of empathy
  • self-centeredness

Many of these narcissistic traits are rooted in the individual’s difficulty regulating self-esteem. It is important to note that a team of mental health professionals diagnoses narcissistic personality disorder which can be treated through different therapies.

Genetic And Environmental Factors

Although a genetic component hasn’t been found, on a biological level, there are suggestions that the individual’s relationship with their parents can be a cause for concern. Examples would be parents who do not give the child the necessary attention and praise or the extreme opposite, where the child receives excessive praise and attention.

Those with narcissistic traits with special talents and skills tend to base their self-worth and self-image on how others respond and treat them; examples are likes and positive social media interactions.

Diagnostic Criteria

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), symptoms for diagnosis would include at least five of the following symptoms starting before early adulthood:

  • an overexaggerated or grandiose sense of their talents and skills
  • ‘living in a fantasy world’ with over-the-top expectations of love, beauty, intelligence, ability, social and economic status, etc.
  • inflated sense of self-importance and only interact and have relationships with those that are ‘good enough.’
  • need for constant attention and admiration
  • entitled
  • using others to get what they want
  • lack of empathy
  • coveting what others have and believing others want and are jealous of what they have
  • inflated sense of self-worth

What Is Autism? 

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) traits include:

  • difficulties with emotional and social interactions
  • these can include the ebb and flow of conversation, understanding and expressing emotions, difficulty understanding social cues, challenges starting and maintaining a conversation
  • challenges in understanding nonverbal communication
  • issues with using eye contact, misunderstanding gestures and body language, limited to no use of facial expressions and other social cues, and nonverbal communication
  • difficulty with relationships
  • challenges with starting, understanding, and maintaining, knowing how to behave in different social interactions and situations, misunderstanding imaginative play, not being interested in others

Genetic And Environmental Factors

Research is still being done on specific genetic and environmental factors related to autism and whether these have anything to do with the cause of autism. There is no definite answer as to whether or what these factors could be and if they can directly affect the autistic traits of an individual.


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Diagnostic Criteria

When the individual is being diagnosed, these symptoms are what the mental health professional is looking for along with the severity in one of the three levels:

  1. requires some support
  2. requires adequate support
  3. needs the most substantial support

The symptoms include at least 2 of the following:

  • stereotypical movements, including repetitive behaviors
  • inflexibility and persistence of routine in daily patterns, rituals, and verbal or nonverbal interactions
  • intense and specific interests
  • either super sensitive or have little to no response to sensory input

The professional also examines whether the behaviors started in early childhood/development and cause “clinically significant impairment” in social interactions such as school or daily life. The practitioner also notes whether these behaviors are related to other comorbid or prior diagnoses or intellectual disability.

Is there any overlap between autism and narcissism?

Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by individuals with difficulty in social and emotional interactions with others and their environment. In contrast, narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by individuals who have difficulty regulating self-esteem and how that affects their interactions with others around them.

Although some behaviors seem narcissistic in nature with an autistic person, it is more of a misunderstanding of how to interact appropriately rather than the need for specific attention from others. That doesn’t mean someone diagnosed with autism can’t also have a comorbid diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. Still, there are definitive differences between the two diagnoses.

Differences Between Autism And Narcissism

The main differences between narcissism and autism are:

  • individuals that have been diagnosed with autism have difficulties with social and emotional cues, interactions, and understanding what is happening and expected of them
  • individuals diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder have a hard time regulating their self-esteem and require the acceptance of others to the benefit of the individual.

Conclusion

Although there may be times when people think that an autistic person is being narcissistic by talking about their current interests without considering those around them, there is a significant difference between autism and narcissism. This is an example of why it is so important to understand the differences between diagnoses and what each term means.

It can be difficult to keep up with the many diagnoses that have been around for a while and those that always seem new; it can help by talking to other parents and professionals if there are any questions.

A child’s doctor is always a great first stop when questions and concerns arise. Suppose they are unable to answer questions or help with specific problems. In that case, they can refer to other professionals that can help.

References:

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