According to evolutionary biologist Bernard Crespi and his co-authors, Philip Stead and Michael Elliot, autism and schizophrenia are each caused by anomalies in the same places in the human genome. People without either disorder usually have two copies of these genes; people with autism were found to have a single copy, while those with schizophrenia had extra copies.
"Autism and schizophrenia have always been regarded as being quite similar, but our data pretty much says the opposite," Crespi told The Vancouver Sun.
"The idea of two psychiatric illnesses being opposites is quite a controversial one."
Autism and Schizophrenia have long been linked, with researchers testing controversial treatments focused on controlling symptoms rather than addressing possible causes. Studies in the 1960s gave children LSD to combat certain autistic symptoms, which then were thought to be reactions to "the disorganization of schizophrenia." This week, Dr. Chun Wong at Autisable.com suggests that medical marijuana could be used to treat aggressive behavior in autistic children. Other current treatments range from Applied Behavior Analysis to biomedical interventions to following a gluten- and casein-free diet (for a primer on interventions, see my earlier article here).
With autism diagnoses on the rise in the United States -- a recent Department of Health and Human Services report showed that 1 in 91 children are on the autism spectrum, and the rate among boys is a startling 1 in 58 -- the fact that the two disorders may be opposite sides of the same coin brings hope that breakthroughs in treating schizophrenia may result in similar breakthroughs on the autism front.