A paper published in the latest online issue of the esteemed medical journal Archives of General Psychiatry argues that autism spectrum disorders (including autism and Asperger's Syndrome, among others) are linked to both schizophrenia and bipolar disorders (BPD).
Investigations at the University of North Carolina (UNC), in Chapel Hill, found that children whose parents or siblings (first-degree relatives) suffered from either schizophrenia or BPD were more likely to go on and develop ASD.
Scientist Patrick F. Sullivan, MD, the leader of the research group, decided to test this link by looking over national databases of health records belonging to thousands of people in Sweden and Israel, PsychCentral
reports. The team paid special attention to families' histories of mental disorders.
The investigation found that children whose first-degree siblings suffered from schizophrenia and BPD were about 300 percent more likely to develop autism or related conditions than kids whose families had no history of mental illness.
Despite the obvious statistical results, scientists have no idea how this correlation could have developed. In other words, they don't know whether one of these conditions triggers the other, or how this happens at all.
BPD patients, for example, experience alternating phases of euphoria and depression, whereas schizophrenics suffer from auditory and visual hallucinations. The latter severely impair the quality of their life, and affect their caregivers.
Autism, on the other hand, appears when a child is unable to interpret social contexts and cannot readily interact with others. The condition can be recognized in kids when they start to align objects or toys, in mathematical order, or by some other criteria.
How these conditions are related is anyone's guess. Far from being discouraged by the current lack of clues, investigators plan to continue their research in more detail over the coming years.
“Our findings indicate that ASD, schizophrenia and bipolar disorders share etiologic risk factors. We suggest that future research could usefully attempt to discern risk factors common to these disorders,” the authors write in the new scientific paper.