Mental health related developmental delays can mirror autism


Developmental toy

I have always known I am a little different to other people.    I am a little awkward socially -- I have some close friends but not a wide circle outside of the mental health field.     I have immense problems forming romantic relationships with young women and I develop anxious attachments to colleagues, mental health workers and my friends and family.  It was as though I hadn't matured properly as an adult.

So I invited a private therapist at £40 per hour into my house, and within one session she had concluded I had developmental issues and anxious-ambivlaent attachments.   Her opinion was that it was probably autism -- so I took some self-tests, which initially confirmed this - high score for autism, higher score still for Asperger's, and really low score for empathy.

I printed these off and showed my NHS team -- they were a little shocked, and, although they said schizophrenia overrides a diagnosis of autism under ICD-10 and DSM-IV TR -- the European and American/UK diagnostic bibles used by psychiatrists -- they consulted and searched and came up with a flow diagram and a solution ... psycho-education.

I don't have Asperger's - but I do have developmental issues

I had never come across anything in the mental health literature before about developmental delays other than autism and learning disabilities, and bear in mind I'm a mental health and learning disability journalist(!)  I spent about £60 at Amazon on textbooks and I did as much research in scientific journals and on Google as I could.  It's true -- mental illness can cause developmental delays which present similarly to autism.   I retook the tests.  They came back "neurotypical" -- the antonym of autistic.  I don't have autism, but I do have very similar issues dating back to developing ME/CFS and clinical depression at 16 and also from early bereavements in my life and the way I was brought up. I also have above-average empathy -- something anyone who's been on the receiving end of my anxious attachments will testify to!

In fact I spent much of my A-Levels unable to file any homework, handing in blank pages for 18 months to my maths and physics tutors, achieving the grades only on exams at the end.    I didn't date until I was 19 when I'd started to recover from the ME/CFS -- before I went back to uni to do journalism and my health came crashing back down with a bang.   I'd only lived in halls for a year, and because of the ME/CFS I attended uni the second time as a day student -- never socialising except at lunchtime.   I missed out on that whole developmental phase ... I've never had a serious girlfriend.

Autism v schizophrenia

It's not long since I wrote a story for Mental Healthy which I spotted on a science newswire about the similarities between autism and schizophrenia.   I found it very revealing and I realised that the two diagnoses are often mistaken -- I had a lot of autism traits in childhood but was paranoid from the age of about 12.   Brain scans have shown remarkable similarities physiologically between the two spectrums -- and I even found a research paper suggesting that 8% of people have both diagnoses -- something which suggests ICD-10 and DSM-IV TR need updating.

Developmentally delayed young bog

Psycho-education -- helping me to develop into an adult

It seems a little daunting but the NHS have referred me to a mental health psycho-education group for people who suffer developmental delays and anxious attachments.  I'll be moving out into supported accommodation in about a year, as I still live with parents, and I'm in my thirties.   Then the aim is to gradually reduce that support and move into my own place, but with floating support.

It's as though someone has shone a light into a very dark place -- I have broken boundaries with two mental health professionals, one therapeutic, one in development, and I have been feeling very low and often suicidal about the lack of a relationship in my life.  Finally, I am being advised that I will be relationship material one day -- once I've developed fully into an adult and moved out.  For the time being, this has satisfied the craving for romance.

If you have in any way been affected by this blog and would like someone to talk to, please call one of the following:

■ Samaritans - 08457 909090 (24 hours a day)

■ SANEline - 0845 767 8000 (6pm-11pm)

Or contact your local community mental health team or GP and ask for a mental health assessment regarding developmental delays.   There may be a psycho-education group in your area.


Excellent blog and very informative. Great that you are getting the help you need.

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