Autism vs. OCD: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Causes & Treatment

Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are two different neurological conditions that can have similar symptoms. Both disorders can cause repetitive behaviors, difficulty with social interactions, and anxiety.

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
August 11, 2023
Published On
August 11, 2023

However, they have distinct differences that make it important to understand the diagnostic criteria, causes, and treatment options for each. In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between Autism and OCD, as well as the diagnostic process and effective treatment options.


Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. Some common symptoms of Autism include:

  • Difficulty with social interactions, including making eye contact and understanding social cues
  • Repetitive behaviors, such as flapping hands, rocking back and forth, or repeating words or phrases
  • Difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Limited interests or intense focus on a particular topic
  • Sensory processing issues, such as hypersensitivity to sound or touch

On the other hand, OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Some common symptoms of OCD include:

  • Obsessive thoughts, such as fear of germs or a need for symmetry
  • Compulsive behaviors, such as excessive cleaning or checking
  • Repeating certain behaviors or thoughts over and over again
  • Anxiety or distress caused by these thoughts and behaviors


Diagnosis of Autism and OCD involves a thorough evaluation by a healthcare professional. In the case of Autism, a diagnosis is typically made based on the presence of certain behaviors and symptoms.

A doctor may use tools such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) or the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) to help with the diagnosis.

These tests involve observing the child's behavior and interviewing parents or caregivers about their child's development.

For OCD, diagnosis is typically based on the presence of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that interfere with daily life.

A doctor may use the Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS) to measure the severity of OCD symptoms. They may also conduct a physical exam and order blood tests to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing the symptoms.


The causes of Autism and OCD are not fully understood, but research suggests that both disorders may have genetic and environmental factors.

For Autism, studies have shown that there may be genetic mutations or variations that affect brain development. Environmental factors such as exposure to toxins or prenatal infections may also play a role.

For OCD, research has shown that there may be abnormalities in the brain's neurotransmitter system, specifically serotonin. Genetics may also play a role in the development of OCD, as studies have shown that the disorder tends to run in families.


Effective treatment for Autism and OCD involves a multidisciplinary approach that may include medication, therapy, and behavioral interventions. For Autism, early intervention is key.

Behavioral interventions such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and social skills training can help children with Autism learn social cues and improve communication.

Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may also be used to treat symptoms of Autism.

For OCD, treatment typically involves a combination of medication and therapy. SSRIs are often used to help reduce anxiety and obsessive thoughts.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can help individuals with OCD learn to manage their symptoms by changing their thought patterns and behaviors.

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is a specific type of CBT that involves gradually exposing individuals to their fears and helping them learn to resist the urge to perform compulsive behaviors.


Here are some frequently asked questions about OCD and autism:

Can a person have both OCD and autism?

Yes, it is possible for a person to be diagnosed with both OCD and autism. In fact, studies have shown that there may be an increased prevalence of OCD among individuals with autism.

What is the difference between repetitive behaviors in Autism vs. OCD?

While both disorders can cause repetitive behaviors, the underlying reasons for these behaviors are different. In Autism, repetitive behaviors may be a way of self-stimulation or self-soothing. In contrast, in OCD, repetitive behaviors are often performed in response to obsessive thoughts or as a way of reducing anxiety.

Can medication help with symptoms of both disorders?

Yes, medication can be effective in treating symptoms of both Autism and OCD. However, the specific medications used may differ depending on the disorder and individual needs.

Is there a cure for either disorder?

There is no known cure for either Autism or OCD. However, with proper treatment and support, many individuals with these disorders are able to manage their symptoms effectively and lead fulfilling lives.

How can I support someone with Autism or OCD?

The best way to support someone with Autism or OCD is to educate yourself about the disorder and offer empathy and understanding. Be patient and supportive, and encourage them to seek professional help if needed.


In conclusion, Autism and OCD may share some similarities in their symptoms, but they are distinct disorders with different diagnostic criteria, causes, and treatment options.

It is important to seek a professional evaluation if you suspect that you or a loved one may have Autism, OCD, or any other neurological or mental health disorder. With the right treatment and support, individuals with Autism and OCD can lead fulfilling and rewarding lives.