Distinguishing Between Social Anxiety Disorder And Autism

At first glance, it is easy to understand why so many people have trouble telling autism spectrum and social anxiety disorder apart. Both disorders tend to cause shyness and socially awkward behavior, and the two are often co-morbid, or present together in the same person. Still, social anxiety and autism are actually separated by a number of notable differences, and they are relatively easy to tell apart in a professional setting. These are four of the primary characteristics that distinguish these two disorders, though you should always seek the advice of a mental health professional for an official diagnosis. 

Differentiating Fear and Disability

Social anxiety disorder and autism may cause similar symptoms, but the two are fundamentally different conditions. You cannot be born with social anxiety disorder but instead develop it later on, whereas autism is thought to be determined at least partially by genetics. This means that patients who suffer from social anxiety disorder have the innate ability to connect and socialize with others that autistic people lack; they simply are too hindered by anxiety to use it to their advantage. 

 Associated Physical Handicaps

These disorders are also differentiated by their scope. Social anxiety disorder focuses on a patient's nervous reaction to social situations. Autism, however, is a developmental disorder that tends to impact physical coordination and athleticism as well. Autistic individuals are, for example, often a little clumsy and may frequently drop small objects, and they frequently also suffer from joint hypermobility. Individuals with social anxiety disorder typically suffer from no loss of physical ability unless induced by stress. 

Identifying Repetitive Behaviors 

The other major diagnostic criteria for autism is a propensity for repetitive behaviors and obsessive interests. This may manifest as self-stimulating, or "stimming," behaviors to relieve anxiety. Autistic people tend to have a few primary interests or hobbies, which they pursue with single-minded tenacity. Individuals with social anxiety disorder, meanwhile, tend to process the world more normally and suffer from fewer compulsions. 

Measuring Social Literacy 

Many autistic individuals also have social anxiety disorders, but others are not shy or afraid of social interaction at all. The real trouble stems from the fact that most autistic people have difficulty with cognitive empathy, or the ability to recognize emotions and social cues in others. Someone with social anxiety can usually tell when a person is flirting or irritated, but an autistic person may be completely unaware of the subtext within a conversation. Whether you have autism, social anxiety disorder or something else entirely, your best bet will be to see a mental health counselor, like one from Dr. Stephen Brown & Associates, who can offer you a more personalized opinion and treatment plan based on his or her professional experience.