Monday, 27 October 2014

Diagnosing autism late: after psychosis

The case report from Marly Simoncini and colleagues [1] (open-access) is the topic of today's post. Describing the case of Mr. A, a young man who attempted suicide during a psychotic episode, the paper tracks the developmental history and diagnostic evaluation of this person culminating in a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) "that had been completely overlooked".
The best thing we can do is go on with our daily routine

The paper is open-access and I would encourage readers to take some time to look through the narrative. Not only are some of the more commonly cited features of autism in childhood described in the paper as per his toy preferences and his wish to "play alone for hours with a few toys" but also other potentially important points: "He continued with selecting his food (white and squared foods only) and drinking milk only from his infant feeding bottle, until he was an adolescent". The outcome of various psychometric assessments specific to autism are also discussed, including his scores on the ADOS and ADI (see here) eventually placing him on the autism spectrum.

The important story of how this case report illustrates how much further we need to go in terms of awareness of autism across the lifespan is also complemented by the discussions on how the autism spectrum seems (in some cases) to merge with other spectrums. The authors note: "signs and symptoms of both a psychotic disorder and an ASD might run isolated or in clusters during the entire lifespan, often not reaching the threshold for a categorical diagnosis until adulthood". I might add that the 'autism overlooked' part of this study is probably not something common to modern-day autism (see here).

Treading quite carefully, I have, on a few occasions on this blog, talked about how there may overlapping presentation of autism and psychosis in some cases (see here and more recently here). Indeed not so long ago, I read a very personal account of a mother caring for a child on the autism spectrum and her experiences of a meltdown: "... apparently it used to be called ‘childhood schizophrenia’ and as I watched Ethan totally lost to me at that moment, in what looked like a possessed fit, I could see how it could have been labelled as schizophrenia". I should point out that schizophrenia is not the same as a 'possessed fit' (see here) but can, and does, present as a range of psychological symptoms as part of the psychosis spectrum (see here).

Of course, one should not forget that a diagnosis of autism is seemingly protective of nothing in terms of other somatic or psychiatric conditions to be present. It might also be nothing more than coincidence that autism and psychosis ran parallel in the case of Mr. A. That being said and on the back of other texts such as the go-to paper by Tom Berney [2], I do wonder if greater thought needs to be put into looking at autism across the lifespan. How, in amongst the sometimes fluidic changes in presentation according to factors such as maturation [3], further screening for issues such as psychosis should be more regularly implemented in order to mitigate any negative effects they may have both for the person concerned and their loved ones?


[1] Simoncini M. et al. Lifetime Autism Spectrum Features in a Patient with a Psychotic Mixed Episode Who Attempted Suicide. Case Reports in Psychiatry. 2014: 459524.

[2] Berney TP. Asperger syndrome from childhood into adulthood. Adv Psychiatr Treat. 2004; 10: 341-351.

[3] Helles A. et al. Asperger syndrome in males over two decades: stability and predictors of diagnosis. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 2014. 3 October.

---------- Simoncini, M., Miniati, M., Vanelli, F., Callari, A., Vannucchi, G., Mauri, M., & Dell’Osso, L. (2014). Lifetime Autism Spectrum Features in a Patient with a Psychotic Mixed Episode Who Attempted Suicide Case Reports in Psychiatry, 2014, 1-4 DOI: 10.1155/2014/459524