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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.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


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.

Unknown 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.

Anonymous said...

I'm still torn. My ex seems to clearly show traits of both.
Example .. we were out to lunch and I asked him why he doesn't see and hang out with his friends more .. his response "they are all jealous of me". No one is jealous and they have no reason to be. He also made our breakup hell for me and pretended he did nothing wrong by cheating and getting another woman pregnant ..

But he also shows clear signs of HFA .. he's incredibly OCD .. he doesn't like to be touched and will squirm away. He even has a "spot" to sit in , if it's occupied he will pace around until it's empty.
Is it actually possible to be both a narcissist and have HFA?

Because I dont want to hate him for something he can't control .

Karlyn Finnegan said...

Definitely not one or the other. My aspire boyfriend with ptsd reads the bible a lot. Huge help.

Cookie said...

Well, maybe he's just mean? I kind of doubt he could have anxiety and depression bc wouldn't that mean he'd likely have low self-esteem? Or maybe he has a different personality disorder. If he has no empathy it's not because of the AS, because we can feel empathy, we're just not very good at expressing it or we may need some explanation of the situation and why you're feeling the way you are. I think you should try a marriage counselling thing, but if that doesn't work, I think the only option could be ending the relationship (but if you have kids, ask them about it first, and make sure they're okay, they will get hit really hard by it, so try to comfort them too). Anyway, stay strong and I hope everything works out in the end!

Cookie said...

"Because I dont want to hate him for something he can't control"

I know this is a bit irrelevant, and I don't have NSPD, but that's actually a really nice thing to say, even though you were in a bad relationship. It's great that you're not staying bitter and can just move on with your life. I hope everything gets better.

Cassandra said...

Parousia, I know exactly what you are talking about. My experience has been just that, wondering if my partner is narcissistic or aspergers. What I've realized is that he is both. He is a closet Asperger, trying to hide his deficits thru validation of his social skills, physical beauty, and breadth of trivial knowledge. If you remember aspergers have special interests. That can include self image. Mine can appear normal on a superficial level in public. But then the weird quirks in the inability to see other people's wants, needs, mindblindness starts to seep in, the OCD like behaviors that cause immense anxiety in an Asperger also interfere with his ability to look and act like a true narcissist that can manage and manipulate a situation to his favor. My simple description is that an Asperger with Narcissim is someone who does not have the actual skills to get what they want because they can't read people. You have to be able to read people to actually manipulate like a narcissist. An Asperger can't because he has s developmental disorder. You add a personality disorder like narcissim, you have somewhat of an incompetent narcissist, someone who can't actually fulfill his narcissistic supply regularly since he's unable to maintain the social connections at will.

Instar; the in-between stage of metamorphosis said...

Thank you for this excellent post. It’s very useful and informative. And I agree with the above mentioned post. I feel my husband is on the spectrum and to over compensate developed NPD traits. And is very brilliant at manipulating, exploiting, and seeing value in people who prop up his life in some way. He has had an extraordinary time feeling entitled.
But after he was divorced once and almost a second time, it opened his eye a bit. He has backed off the feelings of entitlement. But the psychological damage will and is taking some recovery time.

Unknown said...

Informative and helpful ... the comments shared of co- existing both A&N - spot on and help immensely, in retrospect, horrid experience with the now ex! Grateful as it assists in letting go, moving on and recognizing this was never me - just the pattern! Ugh! Twisted mix of inadvertent manipulation or a desparate facade of needy validation and selfish connection - It is good he is mostly alone, but I pity the empathetic, nurturing women who get sucked into his dark soul crushing void of ceaseless needs - they will not escape unscathed!

Unknown said...

You both are correct! All the reading I have done, you two are the only ones that have hit the nail on the head! Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this ! I am married to a man I love dearly but he seems to cross between the two all the time. I'm trying to help him discover better mechanisms to cope with the world in a positive way. I see no evidence of cheating, but all the other traits cross over. I can see he has a good heart inside the bravado... I hope I can help him relax and him love who he actually is.
If you have someone that loves you unconditionally, please try telling them what's going on. It took me 23 years to figure out...I could have reacted so much better/kinder if I had known sooner. Sending love out to you and thanks for your honesty.

Anonymous said... good to know I'm not alone. This sounds like my life. After 23 years it all came out in the open last year when he told me to reflect on why I felt so jealous of many women. The issue was he was overly charming in all and women because he was over-doing social skills. I didn't notice it with men but women were falling for it left right and centre...even a best friend clearly got the wrong idea and started treating me badly as she was jealous. Having investigated every social media, email, etc etc I have concluded there were no affairs. There were women sending him emails/messages trying to chat him up and him just answering them blankly !! Some seemed quite insulted �� Bless him. We're working on not over-doing social-skills (not gazing whilst grinning for long periods of time etc.)...he's also reluctantly learnt that he needs to talk about me to these people...just the odd comment here and there to show he is taken and happy. Honestly, we're in so much better a place now. I know it sounds like I have spied on him but we did this together with him choosing to help me understand he wasn't a cheater.

Anonymous said...

I have a multi-generational situation regarding Son is the 4th generation I know of who is Aspie but he is not a manipulating and definitely no lies (seems incapable of it). I'm NT. However, my husband clearly has some of both...his Dad too and my husband's Grandmother even once stabbed his Grandfather in a fit of husband's mother is an Aspie. People who have Aspie girls, teach them how to emotionally support their child...especially from 3-8 years old when narcissism seems to form. It's vital.

Anonymous said...

Further to that though...I should add that the previous generations of Aspies with narcissism in our family have several incidences of cheating that I know it's hard to be 100% sure.

Anonymous said...

Same here.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to have found this site and read the comments. My children are both narcissists and the older one is also HFA. Their father is a combination covert and grandiose narcissist while my kids are covert. For the longest time I really thought my older child's lies and tantrums were strictly the result of the autism but recently realized it's really the narcissistic side. As to their paternal grandparents, one is HFA and the other a narcissist. This site has confirmed my suspicions that one can have both conditions. Their drama is driving me nuts. I would also like to add that my children have no real reason to be narcissists. They had a "normal" middle class childhood. I truly believe there is a genetic component to this and no matter how they were raised, they were born this way. There's no development of NPD, they just are what they are.

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

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD 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.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

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 or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your 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.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

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

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD 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 ASD 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."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...