A Connection Between Autism and Sociopathy?


When reading descriptions, in various literature including the DSM, of Aspies and autistics on one hand, and narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths on the other, I couldn’t help but notice many similarities. And it scared me, because I realized that I had a decent number of narcissistic and sociopathic traits myself. Keep in mind, however, that I noticed this during the days when I had a far greater literality problem than I do today. It was also before I had fully developed a radical, sceptical attitude toward everything I see, hear or read.

Therefore, I essentially saw documents such as the DSM as the literal Law of the Land, as an ultimate “gospel” of truth. I use the word gospel ironically, because this was also during my militant atheist phase, when I saw anything categorised as “science” as truth, and anything vaguely religious or spiritual-sounding as, to use a Sheldonism, hokum.

Naturally, this over-literal interpretation of the DSM caused me a great deal of internalised oppression, leading me to see myself as a disordered, inferior individual. Then again, there is also the question of whether my tendency towards over-literal interpretations was not entirely natural, but caused in part by my own reading of the descriptions, in popular literature, of autistic people’s over-literal interpretation of information, leading me to internalise it and become a “textbook Aspie.” But that’s a story for another day.

Back to the main point. Some of the similarities between the autism spectrum and the narcissism/psychopathy spectrum I have noticed are lack of empathy, lack of concern of (or being oblivious to) others’ needs, and lack of emotional reciprocity in social exchanges. But there can’t possibly be a connection between the two spectrums, can there? I mean, they are two completely different thing. Autistics are just innocent little retarded angels, while psychopaths are evil diabolical maniacs!

If you found the previous sentence offensive, keep in mind that it was written due to the author’s lack of empathy, stemming from either his Asperger’s, which would cause him to write such a thing due to not knowing any better, or his sociopathy, causing him to write such a thing because he simply does not give a shit. In either case, since both conditions are considered to be mental disorders, criticising me for writing it would make you an ableist. And in case it was not apparent, the previous two sentences were my attempt at sarcasm. As my people are known to be poor with sarcasm, I apologize if I did not pull it off properly.

Now, just for the sake of simplifying things, I am going to break down all the conditions I previously described into two categories: the ASD spectrum, which is the entire autism spectrum (including Asperger’s of course), and the NSP spectrum, a term I made up to describe the narcissism-sociopathy-psychopathy spectrum. Keep in mind that I claim nothing I write as legitimate scientific theory, but more as personal observations about the world. This is closer to art than science.

And to clarify, I am not suggesting that ASD and NSP are literally the same spectrum, but more that those on the ASD spectrum may have a tendency towards developing NSP traits due to environmental conditions and possibly other factors. In particular, I would think it is the higher-functioning autists and Aspies who develop them.

To first single out narcissism from the NSP spectrum, I would say, while admitting that I am probably somewhat of a narcissist myself, that this tendency to be self-absorbed, care only about oneself and not be considerate of others, can easily develop in ASD types due to being raised in an environment, and a culture, where they feel they are not loved or appreciated for who they are. Their natural behavior and mannerisms are shamed, and they are taught the “correct” way to behave by society. They are essentially taught the message that who they are is wrong, and they will be liked more if they be someone else.

Growing up in such an environment will lead to very low self-esteem and the feeling of being un-loved. When one is un-loved, in can, in my opinion, lead to one of two psychological reactions: to continuously live with extremely low self-esteem and hate oneself, or descend (or ascend if you want to look at it that way) into narcissism as a defence mechanism. In other words, if you are not loved enough by others, you must love yourself even more. As someone who has chosen the path of narcissism for many phases of his life, I would definitely describe it as an ascension, rather than a descension, given the alternatives.

To move on to sociopathy, this too, in my opinion, stems from not being appreciated for who one is. Many Aspies, especially the higher-functioning types, find that if they behave more normally or neurotypically- in other words, less like themselves- they will be more appreciated and liked. Thus, they get in a habit of acting like a different person all the time, something that requires a degree of sociopathy to pull off. I have often felt like a sociopath, because the persona I adopt while interacting with others is so different from how I am normally.

Now, remember that in psychological terms, all psychopaths and sociopaths are narcissists, but not all narcissists are sociopaths or psychopaths. Similarly, the distinction between psychopath and sociopath is that psychopaths are supposedly genetically born without empathy, guilt or remorse, while sociopaths are those who develop psychopathic traits due to environmental conditions. Or something like that.

I would then say that those with ASD can be prone to developing the N and S of the NSP spectrum, but not the P. They can easily develop narcissistic and sociopathic traits, but probably could never be full-blooded psychopaths, if there even is such a thing. After all, autistics are also known for high physical and emotional sensitivity to certain stimuli. This is actually opposite to descriptions of psychopathy- often portrayed as “emotionlessness.” This is a theme I will return to in a later article.

So basically, this is the connection I see between the ASD and NSP spectrums. And this might sound controversial, but I don’t believe the NSP spectrum should be pathologised either. If there was a Psychopath Rights movement, I would fully support it! I mean, not as a way of justifying harmful actions done by those on the NSP spectrum of course, but as a way of getting them better accepted into society, in ways that allow them to thrive while doing less harm to people. Another theme for a later post.

I would probably describe myself as a narcissist with some sociopathic traits, as well as an Aspie of course. But let’s do away with the labels and just accept each other, shan’t we?


One response »

  1. Reading this really sent a chill down my spine, because in all honesty it was like reading my own thoughts.

    I’m a 21 year old female high functioning Autistic (that’s what the doctor labelled me anyway). But if I had to describe myself, I would call myself a sociopath who plays into the ditzy Autistic Angel persona so when I say something offensive, people see it as the mistake it truly is. Society around me mistakes me for being insecure, when in reality I’m a narcissist and I suffer from a high level of social anxiety and paranoia about other people. After all, as an Autistic, people aren’t actually that considerate about my condition even when they are trying to be. So why wouldn’t I be paranoid about other people regardless of their intentions? But admitting to that would make society reject me so I just play the role of cute ditzy Autistic angel.

    I just wanted to send you this to let you know that I think your really quite clever and on the right track with these ideas. You might be no psychologist but how many doctors in our field actually have autism? So I’d like to add these little ideas if you haven’t already thought about it yourself. The first is that as an autistic woman, the helpless angel image of autism is actually socially acceptable. I imagine that’s because it fits into the female stereotype of Damsel in Distress. The second is that neurotypicals might have to do the same as us. The idea of having to wear a mask around other people is universal. It is just neurotypicals have an emotional incentive while we have a logical one. So I would like to make the argument that this might be a problem with society as a whole. Of course, I could be wrong.

    Either way, I hope this gives you something to think about and you have a nice day! Because quite frankly, you’ve given me some peace of mind. So thanks!


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