At the risk of political incorrectness, I have to say upfront that Autistic Psychopathy refers to a description coined by Hans Asperger, which was later clinically reframed as Asperger’s Syndrome. Unfortunately, it created the impression that there is a link between the two conditions. Although much research has been done to determine the association between psychopathy and autism spectrum disorders, such a connection is extremely tenuous and most superficial.
Psychopathy is characterized by callousness, manipulativeness, impulsivity, and a lack of remorse or guilt. Self-interests are everything and are persistently pursued, often at the expense of others. Asperger’s, on the other hand, involve significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, including trouble reading and interpreting social cues. There are also often restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.
Difference between Asperger’s and Psychopathy
The most glaring difference is the lack of remorse in psychopaths, and their tendency to manipulate, blame, and exploit others. Therefore, their nature is predatory, and they go about with a callous indifference to satisfy their own needs and goals. Asperger’s are more defensive, based on reacting to social difficulties that they experience.
Their affect isn’t usually as blunted, and they dislike and tend to avoid conflict, whereas psychopaths are more likely to provoke conflict when it suits them. Therefore, aggression among Asperger’s cases is mostly due to frustration, unplanned, and minor, such as temper tantrums. Also, people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) don’t so much lack emotion and remorse, they just don’t know how to express or convey it to others. As a result, chronic unhappiness and loneliness are more commonly associated with ASD.
Asperger’s and Co-existing Psychological Conditions
But, autism and psychopathy can exist together. In fact, comorbidity, or the simultaneous presence of features of more than one disorder, is very common among people with psychological conditions. Research has shown that almost three out of four ASD children had one or more additional disorder. Although mood disturbances such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar features are by far the most found with Asperger’s, the presence of personality disorders are also fairly common, especially among men, of which almost two-thirds of participants in a study were diagnosed, compared to 32 percent of women in the sample.
However, all cases involved Schizoid, Avoidant, and Obsessive-Compulsive personality disorders. None were diagnosed with Antisocial or Narcissistic personality disorders. This instinctively rings true. Antisocial and Narcissistic personality disorders, which share several features with psychopaths, have a deliberate, predatory, and intentional approach to get what they want. They can be impulsive, but such actions are still self-driven instead of avoidant.
When Asperger’s and Psychopathy Collide
But, in rare cases, ASD and psychopathy do co-exist. It can then be a particular unpredictable combination that can have devastating consequences for the individual and others. The most profound human need is to belong, to feel that they are approved and valued in their environment. People with ASD find it particularly difficult to find and experience such connections, which can make them feel rejected and ostracized. Under these circumstances, people may become embittered and revengeful, slowly stewing and brooding until they are overwhelmed with the distress.
Sandy Hook, Umpqua, and Columbine
Planning revenge in increasingly meticulous detail provides relief for a while. It is here when psychopathic features are particularly chilling. It means that the individual also lacks the moral depth to care about others. They just become tools of revenge and are sometimes faceless representatives of the group who is to blame. With the heightened stress, such a person may also lose their grip on reality and get even more paranoid and hateful. At the same time, they crave retribution for actual or perceived wrongs done to them while seeking admiration and to be remembered. In such cases of autistic psychopathy, autism may be the underlying cause but the callous and selfish disregard fuels the fire until it is unsustainable. Then, tragedy sometimes happen. As did at Sandy Hook, Umpqua, and Columbine.