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Is it Asperger’s or Narcissism or Both?

Asperger's (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) are often confused with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The reason for this confusion is understandable since some of the symptoms found in people with AS and HFA are also found in those with NPD. Some of the similarities between AS/HFA and NPD may include the following:
  • apparent lack empathy
  • difficulty understanding others’ feelings 
  • eccentric personality 
  • harsh interpersonal communication
  • inability to view the world from the perspective of others
  • lack of demonstrated non-verbal cues and inability to pick-up on the non-verbal cues of others
  • lack of interest in others
  • lack of psychological awareness 
  • narrow range of interests and activities
  • obvious self-focus in interpersonal exchanges
  • preoccupation with their own agenda
  • problems in sustaining satisfying relationships
  • self-centeredness
  • similar eye-to-eye gaze, body stance, and facial expressions
  • tendency to react to social problems/stress with depression
  • underdeveloped conversational skills

Despite the similarities listed above, the difference between AS/HFA and NPD is vast, like night and day. Here are a few examples of the dissimilarities:

1. The Aspergerian (i.e., person with Asperger’s) wants a good and happy life – not just for himself, but for everyone. He would rather “fit-in” with his peer-group (or simply be left alone) rather than be the “boss” or the “leader” – even if he is the brightest student in the class. The Narcissist (i.e., person with NPD), however, wants a good and happy life only for himself (or the individuals he includes in his inner circle). He wants to be in control and doesn't care who he has to hurt to get control. He will do anything he can to be in charge of the people around them (without being noticed as a “control freak”).

2. The Aspergerian typically pays little attention to the body language of others – and would have great difficulty reading it even if he tried. The Narcissist pays close attention to others’ body language – looking for signs that they may be weak or vulnerable – and then seizes the opportunity to exploit them for his own gains.

3. The Aspergerian typically does not have any hidden agenda toward others. But, the Narcissist lives and breathes hidden agenda, as any good con man would.

4. The Aspergerian simply wants to be treated with normal consideration and respect, but he often receives much less respect than he deserves due to his social skills deficits, quirkiness, and lack of desire to appear “cool” in the eyes of others. On the contrary, the Narcissist typically receives way more respect than he deserves since he is great at presenting himself as the smartest, coolest person on the block. He discards and devalues others in order to make himself look better.

5. The individual with Asperger’s often appears selfish, uncaring and insensitive due to the fact that he tends to live in his “own little world,” often minding his own business to a fault. The individual with NPD often appears selfish, uncaring and insensitive BECAUSE HE IS.

6. The Aspergerian is unlikely to obey the hidden rules of conversation (e.g., unable to read or exhibit non-verbal language, may ramble on about a special interest even when the listener has stopped paying attention, may not allow others to speak in turn, interrupts the speaker on a whim, etc.). On the other hand, the Narcissist pays very close attention to the rules of conversation and is highly verbal, using language as a manipulative tool to get his ego fed.

7. The Aspergerian wants marriage, children, friends and social acceptance, but is fairly clueless about how to go about procuring these things. As a result, he may develop a fear of rejection – and even choose a solitary lifestyle. Conversely, the Narcissist has the ability to switch between social responsiveness and social disengagement. He is not interested in relationships with certain people, because he views them as unworthy or inferior. However, if he can take advantage of someone for his own gains, he will easily and immediately regain his social skills and charm.

8. Asperger’s individuals don’t exploit Narcissists. However, Narcissists do exploit people with Asperger’s. In fact, the Aspergerian is often the Narcissist favorite target!

9. The Aspergerian experiences developmental delays, whereas the Narcissist experiences personality flaws.

10. The Aspergerian is rather naïve and innocent, while the Narcissist is rather cunning and guilty.

Analogically, the individual with Asperger’s is focused on his widget of interest, how it is made, what else it can be used for, comparing and contrasting similar widgets, how to make a better widget, how the widget can be used to help others – and wants to tell others ALL about his widget. The Narcissist, on the other hand, is focused on getting viewed by others as a “widget-creator” (whether he is or not), getting credit for building the best widget and being THE expert in widget creation, and how the widget can be used to make a lot of money and further his own agenda.

In a nutshell, the Narcissist is a person who is excessively preoccupied with power, prestige and vanity – and is unable to see the destructive damage he causes as he steps over and on people to reach his selfish goals. He has exaggerated feelings of self-importance, a strong need for admiration, a huge sense of entitlement, and demonstrates grandiosity in his behavior and beliefs. Those of us who have been around individuals on the autism spectrum for any length of time know that these traits seem almost polar opposites compared to those associated with Asperger’s and High Functioning Autism.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

10 comments:

Endingthecycle said...

Wow. I have a son with Aspergers and a mother with what I assume is NPD. This was really pertinent and interesting! Thanks!

Mark Hutten, M.A. said...

Comment from Nicola:

"Hi Mark, Absolutely brilliant article! My son has AS and his estranged father has in my strong opinion, NPD. Your article has struck so many chords and given me comfort that my son doesn't have NPD. Many thanks."

Parousia said...

You didn't address the "both" possibility raised in your headline. What is the likelihood of the two co-existing, and how would it look if it did? I know this blog is aimed at parents with children who have Asperger's, but I really need to find out whether narcissism and autism can co-exist, because I'm quite confused about my (almost ex-)husband's character/manner, interaction with the world (and me, in particular). I'm almost certain he is on the spectrum, but he is also a bully whose primary concern is his own happiness, even at the expense of others. He also saw it as my obligation, as his wife, to make him happy. He never believed in marriage, but once we were married, he had an absolutely inflexible idea of how a wife should behave and interact with him.
He also suffers from anxiety and depression, but has no empathy with other people with similar problems.

Parousia said...

PS. If my belief that my husband is narcissistic as well as autistic is correct, he would best fit into the category of people that are referred to as "covert" narcissists.

momma said...

Parousia, I believe my husband has both as well. We have been married for 19 years and the insidious nature of his blame shifting, belittling, grandiosity, etc is for the sole purpose of elevating himself, bringing others down,and devaluing others. However,his social skills suck, he is socially awkward and takes no care for his appearance, he has terrible work history and is always at the bottom and has never used alcohol, etc. We have a teen with autism and I am around others on the spectrum constantly. I know what autism looks like and this just feels like there is something there in addition to that.

wendy said...

I can not agree more. Thanks.

Parousia said...

Yes, I have a child (well, a young adult now) with Asperger's, who has plenty of problems, but doesn't exhibit nearly the same degree or type of self-centeredness as my ex.

momma said...

So you detect the difference too. From what I understand, personality disorders are caused by parenting whereas autism is genetic. How could they not coexist? If my husband's problems were just autism, teaching him social skills would be enough to help him cope with life, just like my teen, but this man doesn't cope. Working with Autistic kids, I have only ever seen one other autistic person like my husband and he also had a psycho mother similar to my mother in law. They both want the appearance of perfection, freak out on people, and you never know what will make them mad next. They screwed up their autistic kids who were already facing challenges.

Debbie said...

Me too! I know this is an old comment, but just had to say hang in there. Dealing with both of these challenges on either side is so challenging! Wish you the best.

Matt Lichtenauer said...

I have a son with Autism. I have Aspergers and very strong NPD traits. I believe I developed it as my way of feeling normal. But normal didn't seem good enough as I knew I had other gifts. I used my NPD to make me feel better from living in my own confusing world.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually. Thus, the best treatment for Aspergers children and teens is, without a doubt, “social skills training.”

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Aspergers Children

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and the Asperger’s child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

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Parenting Defiant Aspergers Teens

Although Aspergers is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager with Aspergers are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the Aspergers teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Aspergers Children “Block-Out” Their Emotions

Parenting children with Aspergers and HFA can be a daunting task. In layman’s terms, Aspergers is a developmental disability that affects the way children develop and understand the world around them, and is directly linked to their senses and sensory processing. This means they often use certain behaviors to block out their emotions or response to pain.

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children With Aspergers Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with Aspergers face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Living with an Aspergers Spouse/Partner

Research reveals that the divorce rate for people with Aspergers is around 80%. Why so high!? The answer may be found in how the symptoms of Aspergers affect intimate relationships. People with Aspergers often find it difficult to understand others and express themselves. They may seem to lose interest in people over time, appear aloof, and are often mistaken as self-centered, vain individuals.

Click here to read the full article…

Online Parent Coaching for Parents of Asperger's Children

If you’re the parent of a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism, you know it can be a struggle from time to time. Your child may be experiencing: obsessive routines; problems coping in social situations; intense tantrums and meltdowns; over-sensitivity to sounds, tastes, smells and sights; preoccupation with one subject of interest; and being overwhelmed by even the smallest of changes. The hardest part is you feel like you’ll never actually get to know your child and how he/she views the world.

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