Although widely regarded as separate conditions, there are clear overlaps between some of the difficulties experienced by people with autism spectrum disorders and those with schizophrenia spectrum disorders. This is particularly the case when one considers people with autism spectrum disorders who do not show marked communication difficulties and those with schizophrenia spectrum disorders who do not experience frequent delusions and hallucinations, such as is seen in schizotypal disorder.
Why did we do this study?
Because of the similarities and overlap between certain experiences of autism and of schizotypal disorder, it can be difficult to correctly identify whether a person is autistic or has a schizotypal disorder. In turn, this means that the person may not be receiving the support they need. With this study, we wanted to better understand and characterise which features are shared and which features are different between autism spectrum disorders and schizotypal disorder.
What did we do?
We recruited adults with autism, with schizotypal disorder, and with no known condition, and we carried out detailed clinical and cognitive testing, as well as an MRI scan to look at brain function during certain tasks.
What did we find?
We found that at the behavioural and psychological level, people with autism and people with schizotypal disorder were very similar, especially in terms of social cognitive skills (meaning the way their mind process social information). However, we also found that they were different in the way their brain activates when dealing with social information. This means that while social cognitive difficulties are experienced in a similar way for people with autism or with schizotypal disorder, these difficulties are the result of different brain mechanisms. This is very important as it means that even though their experiences might seem similar, people with autism and people with schizotypal disorder may need different kinds of support when it comes to their social difficulties.
The results were also published in a peer-reviewed journal:
- Abu-akel, A., Philip, R. C. M., Lawrie, S. M., Johnstone, E. C., & Stanfield, A. C. (2020). Categorical and Dimensional Approaches to Examining the Joint Effect of Autism and Schizotypal Personality Disorder on Sustained Attention. Frontiers in psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00798
- Stanfield, A., Philip, R. C. M., Sibley, H., Romaniuk, L., Hall, J., Johnstone, E., & Lawrie, S.(2017). Dissociation of brain activation in autism and schizotypal personality disorder during social judgements. Schizophrenia Bulletin. https://doi.org/10.1093/schbul/sbx083
Who conducted and funded the project?
This project was conducted by Andrew Stanfield, Ruth Philip, Heather Whalley, Liana Romaniuk, Katie Baynham, Eve Johnstone, Stephen Lawrie, as well as Jeremy Hall from the University of Cardiff. This study was primarily funded by the Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Scotland, with additional support from the Shirley Foundation, and the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation.