Recently I read what was, to me, a startling article reporting on a study that showed a connection between depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism and autism, including Asperger’s Syndrome or High Functioning Autism. Apparently this is not such a new finding as I had thought when I first read the article. That’s not surprising, since I’ve been out of the research loop for almost 3 years now. Still, for me it was one of those “OY!” moments. Autism? I’d heard about connections between all the others – but not that. And as it turned out, this study did break new ground.
The connection was found through gene expression. This, according to Leigh Hopper, who wrote about the study for UCLA Newsroom, “… is the process by which instructions in DNA are converted into a product, such as a protein.” A significant overlap was found between molecular pathways in the brain for these five mental disorders. (Do I understand this? Not entirely, so don’t feel bad if you don’t. The important thing for this discussion is that the connection was found.)
Here I must again state that I am not a medical professional, researcher, psychologist, therapist or even a trained counselor. I am a patient who has done a great deal of study about bipolar disorder¹. In this case, I was fascinated by the study, published in Science, because it suggested new possibilities for understanding myself. It may also help you understand yourself or the person you know or love who has bipolar disorder. You may get insights about people with other mental disorders – or none. Some friends of mine have also found enlightenment about themselves by looking at the symptoms of Asperger’s.
Are Asperger’s Syndrome and High Functioning Autism the Same?
In 2013 the American Psychiatric Association removed “Asperger’s Syndrome” from its list of mental disorders in the 5th Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly known as the DSM-5. In spite of this controversial change, on the internet most of the information about the condition is still found under the heading of Asperger’s. Also, all sources I found (too numerous to cite) said that Asperger’s and HFA are the same.
My Diagnoses of Mental Disorders
I was diagnosed with neurosis – a discredited term these days – at 18 or 20. I wasn’t given a formal diagnosis of clinical depression until I was 44. When Prozac generated episodes of hypomania, I got diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder at the age of 49. And I was diagnosed with Asperger’s – never.
When I was a child, there was no diagnosis of autism available, let alone of Asperger’s or HFA. According to Marina Sarris, writing for the Interactive Autism Network, children born in the mid-1980s were the first to receive the diagnosis of autism. And diagnosis became available even later for Asperger’s.
I was born in 1950.
Did I/Do I Have Asperger’s Syndrome?
The answer is, I don’t know. I haven’t been formally diagnosed. In fact, I’ve pretty much decided not to seek a diagnosis, because I don’t know what good it would do now. It’s far too late to go back and change my painful childhood (see The Seeds of Manic Depression – these experiences are also common to children with Asperger’s!), miserable adolescence and unhappy teens. It’s impossible to change history and have my parents do all the things they had no way to know were necessary for a child with not just (possibly) Asperger’s but also (possibly) early-onset bipolar disorder (which also was not recognized as a separate illness until much, much later than the 1950s).
But I think I have had high functioning autism all my life. The more I read about the symptoms, the more it makes sense. Of the two online tests I have taken – and admittedly such tests usually have inherent flaws – one said I had a good chance of having Asperger’s. The other, where I scored 146 out of 200, said I probably do have it.
In my next article I will go into the symptoms of Asperger’s, and later, in more depth, about why at this time I’m not planning to look for a diagnosis. I’ll also discuss what, if anything, I think the enlightenment on high functioning autism will do for me.
¹ I was responsible, first in part and then entirely, for content on the former website “About Bipolar Disorder.”
Gandal, Michael J., and Daniel H. Geschwind, et al. Shared molecular neuropathology across major psychiatric disorders parallels polygenic overlap. Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 9 Feb. 2018.
Sarris, Marina. A Lost Generation: Growing Up with Autism Before the “Epidemic”. Interactive Autism Network, Kennedy Krieger Institute, 25 July 2017.
Autism and Asperger’s Quiz. Psychology Tests & Quizzes, Psych Central, 18 Dec. 2017. From Baron-Cohen, S., et al. (2001), The Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) : Evidence from Asperger Syndrome/High Functioning Autism, Males and Females, Scientists and Mathematicians Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 5-17.
Ekblad, Leif (2004-2018) Aspie Quiz.
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