It wasn’t so long ago that most psychiatric and developmental disorders were described and treated as distinct entities. Eventually, the psychiatric community came to understand that there is often overlap or co-morbidity between the various disorders. Recent advances take our understanding even beyond this.
When it comes to autism and schizophrenia for example, scientists have found that the same set of genes may play an important role in the development of both disorders. Besides this, the brains of schizophrenics and autistics seem to function similarly, and people diagnosed with schizophrenia in late adolescence or early adulthood were often diagnosed with autism in childhood or displayed autism-like behavior.
Some researchers will go as far as to claim that autism and schizophrenia are practically the same condition, and have even adopted a new label that subsumes both disorders, called “multiplex developmental disorder“. This way of looking at it renders schizophrenia and autism as distinct disorders largely obsolete. There is so much controversy concerning this, although it is increasingly clear that autism and schizophrenia have a common origin.
According to the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle, Washington in Revisiting the relationship between autism and schizophrenia: toward an integrated neurobiology:
Schizophrenia and autism have been linked since their earliest descriptions. Both are disorders of cerebral specialization originating in the embryonic period. Genetic, molecular, and cytologic research highlights a variety of shared contributory mechanisms that may lead to patterns of abnormal connectivity arising from altered development and topology. Overt behavioral pathology likely emerges during or after neurosensitive periods in which resource demands overwhelm system resources and the individual’s ability to compensate using interregional activation fails. We are at the threshold of being able to chart autism and schizophrenia from the inside out. In so doing, the door is opened to the consideration of new therapeutics that are developed based upon molecular, synaptic, and systems targets common to both disorders.
You can read more about it here: Psychiatric Times – Autism and Schizophrenia