Comparing Autism & Borderline Personality Disorder

Recently, Pride in Madness posted some memes from a Tumblr called “Sh*t Borderlines Do” and commented on how they related to her own experiences. I noticed some similarities with autistic traits and commented about this, and someone else responded wanting to know more about autism and how it might overlap with BPD. I will preface this by saying that I am not that familiar with Borderline Personality Disorder, I’ve know a couple people (in-person or online) with that label, I get the impression it’s a newer one that is somewhat controversial (but then isn’t every mental health label?) Links for more info on BPD at the bottom of the post.

“You notice the slightest difference in how someone treats you, and it bothers you for days on end”

The autistic or obsessive-compulsive version of this would be more likely to be “a school or work policy, procedure, or the way objects, furniture etc. are arranged changes without explanation, and it bothers you for days on end”

“Just constantly feeling f*cking guilty for things that you know logically aren’t your fault” PiM mentions that her tendency of compulsive apologizing for random things. Because of my long of offending people without realizing it, messing up due to clumsiness, ADHD spaciness, etc. I tend to do a lot of pre-emptive “just in case” apologizing. It’s very insecure and paranoid. Which has the additional effect of making my apologies for actual serious things seem less sincere.  Some autistic or OCD people will develop a certain way of doing things that they believe they “have to do” or Bad Things Will Happen- like our own personal superstitions. This is a sort of coping mechanism for putting something tangible under our control for a world that seems out of control.

“Feeling so much of everything so very deeply that it’s overwhelming”

I suspect that the reasons folks with BPD have this problem may be different than for those on the autism spectrum, though for person with both it may be a combination. For autistic folks, often sensory input (noise, lights, smells, touch) and constant social interaction can often lead to feeling emotionally overwhelmed and having what we call a “meltdown”. In contrast, I get the impression that people with BPD are to some degree picking up on the emotions of others and internalizing/amplifying them.

General Info on BPD

Psych Central description

Nat’l Alliance on Mentally Illness description

BPD & Autism

Apparently women and girls with ASD (whom as I’ve discussed before, are often later diagnosed) are often mis-diagnosed with BPD. BPD still may be a more accurate label for some people, and some people may have both.

Borderline Personality Disorder- a correct diagnosis?

Similarities & Differences between ASD & BPD

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Growing Up Autistic

As she introduces me on my tours, my colleague Joanne Bowles often mentions that I am very comfortable discussing my autism and answering questions about it, while other tour guides often don’t feel that way, which we certainly can respect. Why is this? Well I can’t speak for them, but it’s been a long journey for me towards self-acceptance.

I’m 32, and unusual for someone my age, I was diagnosed around age 8 with autism, more specifically Asperger’s Syndrome. Most people I’ve met around my age weren’t labeled until their teens or twenties, often they were identified as having AD/HD or another learning disability or mental condition. I was the opposite. My partner jokes that I have “male-pattern autism”- females are less commonly diagnosed with autism, but a lot of that seems to be that it tends to manifest differently in males and females, and most of the research on autism and Asperger’s has been done on males. Autistic girls are more frequently quiet and good at hiding their symptoms. I was loud and opinionated, and definitely didn’t act like a “proper young lady”. Fortunately my father at the time was working for the Menninger Foundation, a mental health organization that had more up-to-date research on various conditions, and that is why I was able to access doctors who could figure me out- at least a little bit!

My parents were amazing advocates for me, constantly communicating with teachers about my IEP, what I was studying, and emotional and social issues that I had. I was mainstreamed throughout my schooling, and had an aide to assist me in 4th thru 8th grade. The aide was mainly there to help keep me focused on my work, and help me calm down (sometimes by whisking me out of the room) if I had anxiety problems. My parents took the attitude with both my brother and I (he is also on the spectrum and has ADD) of focusing on one year at a time. They didn’t worry about planning for the future, they focused on what was in front of them. In retrospect, I can see the disadvantages of that approach, but it was understandable in the light of the more limited resources that were available at the time for transition-age youth.  I believe they did the best they could, and in fact far better than many parents would’ve done in the same situation!

Anyway, my attitude towards my label was very negative at first when my parents told me, because it sounded negative- Disorder, Syndrome. It sounded like a disease, like there was something wrong with me. My parents tried to explain that I was still the same Mariah, but now we could better understand how Mariah thinks and what she needs. My brother had similar reactions when he was told as well.

I finally felt better about being autistic after attending a camp for kids with Asperger’s/ASD, Camp Discovery at Courage North as a teenager. At last I could be around kids like me (no, my brother wasn’t enough!) I realized that autism wasn’t necessarily a negative, it just meant I was different. Meeting an adult on the spectrum (each cabin had one- called a mentor) was a life-changing experience. I could look up to this person, and have an idea of what I could grow up to be. It was run by the Autism Society, and after going there a couple times, I returned as a mentor and worked there for seven years.

Related Topics I’d like to expand on:

Patterns of Autism in Males/Females

Integration Should Not Mean Isolation

Autism vs. Asperger’s