Thoughts about autism and BPD

Hi everyone,

I came across a thread on here talking about autism (particularly female autism) and borderline personality disorder (BPD). I noticed a few posters felt very indignant that they had once been diagnosed with BPD and felt that, once they got their diagnosis of autism, this eclipsed their BPD diagnosis and made it defunct. They didn't seem to think that one could have both at the same time. They think I've got BPD; the diagnosis was confirmed after a crisis where I had to spend the night in A&E, but it had been talked about for a while prior to this. I have a theory about it; I'm not a psychologist or any sort of MH professional so I don't know if I'm right, but this is what I have come to think about my own life.

A lot of people think that BPD is caused by trauma in the early part of childhood. I would never say that I suffered wouldn't be fair to those who actually have. But I feel I've been damaged by my Asperger's. It caused the adults around me to try and sweep my issues under the carpet (my mum reckoned she knew since that I had autism since the age of 18 months, and yet did nothing to try and help, even though she supposedly loves me. I was just allowed to go around suffering, with no one doing anything to support me). At school, other children constantly abused me, pretty much from the day I started school. I was rejected, isolated and excluded. I was physically hit, kicked, pushed etc on many occasions throughout my school career, but there were. When I was very young, I was at a birthday party (I used to spend birthday parties crying because I felt so frightened and alone, and like my parents had abandoned me there; I also felt abandoned every day when I was dropped at school from my first day at playgroup when I was 3) and a little girl from my class got frustrated with me, agressively snatched off the sticky label I was wearing with my name on it, and tore it up and threw it on the floor in front of me. When I told my mum about this, she said, "It's because (this little girl) wants to be your friend, and you don't play with her when she wants to play with you." I took this to mean: "It's your fault she went for you." There were quite a few other incidents like that. This is how I know that I've deserved the abuse I've had over the years.

When I got to secondary school, I was very overweight and ugly as well as a defective freak. To mock me, boys would make crude comments, shove me against walls or collect around me in big gangs. They would touch me when I didn't want to be touched, sometimes hit or kick me, I was once spat on, I was once hounded into a room and had food repeatedly thrown at me, and, on all of these occasions, I would scream and cry for them to stop. It feels like this happened all the time throughout my secondary school career, however, I never once school refused because for me, that was not an option. Sometimes when I close my eyes at night I still think about school and how hated I was for being less than what other children wanted. Even the kinder children were sharp and cold with me, When I try to talk to people about it, I get told to "move on." I feel invalidated, which apparently makes BPD symptoms worse. I ended up with an eating disorder, but because I was overweight when the restrictive eating started, my mum's friends would say things to me like, "You look amazing; a touch of anorexia never hurt anyone." They'd think they were joking or being complimentary but, as you can imagine, that sort of thing made the problem worse. Then my actual diagnosis happened which was a total nightmare and it was the "straw that broke the camel's back" - I knew I would hate myself forever and ever. Nobody ever acknowledged how much it hurt me.

I can't even begin to write everything that happened, and I'm too tired to try; I'm also kind of physically unwell today with this cold that's been going round. I know I deserved everything I got at school, but still, being different is painful. What I don't understand is why nobody agrees that it's potentially damaging. A friend of our family who is an autism specialist has told me that "growing up with autism is difficult, but it doesn't count as a proper trauma" - a) I never said it was and b) her saying that just felt like more invalidation. I've always struggled with my mental health but over the last year it has deteriorated significantly. I now can't get through a day without becoming very upset, or harming myself in some way. I lose control and have to resort to anti-psychotic medication to calm me down. Obviously being Aspie I find it hard to make relationships anyway, but the ones I have feel insecure and chaotic. I do not know what or who I am, apart from that it's bad. I have been told, and from what I have read believe, that I meet criteria for BPD. The actual term is problematic for some people, but I don't find it so: I found being labelled Asperger's far more humiliating. If Asperger's was a person, I'd love to hurt it. I am broken. I think it has caused my "BPD symptoms".

Does anyone else think this could be true? Not just for me, but for them?

  • I am a mental health nurse, and the message I want to communicate to you is that without a doubt, you HAVE experienced trauma. You are not to blame and you did NOT deserve the things that happened to you at school.

  • I have Asperger's (or higher functioning Autism depending on the current categorisation) and I work with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder (I wouldn't have gone into business with him if I'd known as it's caused a whole world of problems).

    All the things he does because of his BPD clash with my ASD, his behaviour seems odd and irrational even by neuro-typical standards, with NT people their reasoning can often not add up, 1+2 can often equal 2 or 4, but with him (and other BPD people I've interacted with) 1+2 could equal 97, 438, orange, end of the world, biscuits, potato or abstract illogical concept no 1,234. Worse still is that nothing and nothing can still add up to the end of the world multiple times a day, he can go off because of absolutely nothing, there are times when I've seem him actively searching for something to have a tantrum about, he'll sit there staring at his phone and email, waiting for it or ring or for an email to come in so he can scream about how busy he is and have a tantrum, sometimes he'll sit there and do nothing for half an hour to wait to have a tantrum about how busy he is when an email or phone call comes in.

    The diagnostic criteria for BPD are below and people with ASD will find all of those behaviours difficult to deal with when facing them (comments in brackets below are mine).

    A marked tendency to act unexpectedly and without consideration of the consequences;

    (His behaviour is always about immediate gratification in that second, or that minute, rarely can he ever manage delayed gratification beyond a day. His actions often appear out of nowhere and that immediate action must be pursued by him at the detriment to everything else).

    A marked tendency to engage in quarrelsome behavior and to have conflicts with others, especially when impulsive acts are thwarted or criticized;

    (He has an argumentative temperament, often describing odd behaviours as "normal", or "what normal people do", when they are obviously not. When challenged on his impulsive acts which might be eating to the point of feeling physically sick, he will claim they are normal, become incredibly argumentative. He will argue with people that everything different that he does and his experience is the reference point and that everyone else's experience is either "wrong" or that they are lying.)

    A liability to outbursts of anger or violence, with inability to control the resulting behavioral explosions;

    (He's never physically violent towards me, this may well be because I'm considerably bigger than him but he's also got up in my face, he can have huge outbursts of anger and total inability to control himself afterwards. he's thrown his phone across the room because someone called and he was "busy", he gets hysterical several times a day over things that would be regarded as perfectly normal day to day occurrences etc. I certainly wouldn't want to be a child around him, even by NT standards the reasons for his actions are irrational and motivations opaque or even contradictory to his actions.)

    A difficulty in maintaining any course of action that offers no immediate reward;

    (Unable to work towards realistic goals, gratification has to be immediate, even things with obvious longer term rewards are dismissed as irrelevant, pointless, a waste of time etc.)

    An unstable and capricious (impulsive, whimsical) mood.

    (Very impulsive, hugely up and down, happy one minute then hugely depressed the next (or the other way around) with no apparent reason for the change in mood, can also involve anger, malaise, will often impulsively spend money on junk food, lottery tickets, pointless items, etc to satisfy impulses)

    I tend to find that BPD is hugely at odds with ASD, with ASD a more logical approach seems to exist (at the higher functioning end especially) where as BPD seems to be a huge decent into the irrational. The two seem almost contradictory in nature and that could well be why they are often seen as mutually exclusive.

  • I have to disagree. As with ASD, BPD has a spectrum of difficulties and severity. Those with ASD can also struggle with emotional dysfunction, have tantrums, episodes of rage, self-injure and have impulsive behaviours associated with executive functioning deficits. There can also be problems with identity. Poor central-coherence can also cause difficulties with decision making or planning. People with autism can be argumentative too and may struggle with conflict resolution. The underlying cause in the brain is different, however.

    The overlap has caused a large number of people to have been misdiagnosed, particularly females who can be more expressive or emotional than males with ASD.

    Stereotypes are a problem.

  • Hey. I know it's been a while since you posted this but I was just reading through this and wanted you to look at something that might suit your experiences better. I think it is unlikely that you have comorbid ASD and BPD. You should have a read through this link ( ) - it elaborates on PTSD. Usually PTSD is diagnosed if the trigger is a single event but recently the DSM has been amended to contain persistent abuse. Your text fits the criteria and medication could only help you to a certain extend (/if you're given medication/psychotherapy to treat BPD when you don't actually have it it could be counterproductive). It may be worthwhile seeing another (or the same) doctor and presenting them with your post as you elaborate on your childhood trauma very well. Even though ASD and BPD are unlikely comorbid; ASD and PTSD certainly are and if you get a better diagnosis you could get better help. 

  • I found this post because after days of obsessively diving into the intersection of autism, trauma, and emotional abuse in families, due to recent extreme meltdowns triggered by my untreated mother (Paxil making it worse after 15 years)... I searched “autists vs borderlines.” There’s helpful info out there of one can filter it beyond so much DSM smoke up their own you know whats. I’m the autist, with PTSD, and I realized this morning that I have serious interpersonal difficulties with borderlines. My mom, two friends, perhaps also my dad. There’s also alcoholism and ptsd for generations sooo it’s been fun sorting it out. The two friendships now essentially faded were insightful as we talked therapeutically a LOT. They assumed I was bpd too. Indeed my learned traits echo what I got growing up. I mirrored bpd. Of course I did; I was mystified and traumatized and blamed myself for the abuse. Add to this all the difficulty being autistic and labeled a thousand ways as the “problem” and it’s a right mess. But bpd didn’t sit right, in fact most of my struggles are the opposite. It was long very confusing figuring out “mine” from “theirs.” I bring it up to say, significant borderlines in my life have had serious problems with me: my way and struggles seem to be a strong trigger for them. Of course as they’re bpd it becomes a subtle resentment with passive aggression in tow, “my fault.” Both friends are in dbt therapy so there’s less damage. I’d even say dbt can really help both “types.” Maybe could be modified for autists. But yea, I think asd and bpd are generally a hellish combination and not enough is being said about this, especially intergenerationally (and indeed small studies show preexisting ptsd increases likelihood of asd in children). Thanks for this topic. 

  • It was like reading something about myself! was finally diagnosed with BPD a couple of years ago,  I'm now 28, after a trauma, bpd was openly suspected since childhood, from gps etc. As I've got later into my 20's though I have very apparent autism traits. Extremely obvious, I can't hide it. E.g extreme sensitivity to noises, age 28 and have so much anxiety in social situations, I have "meltdowns" so to speak , anxiety overload that I don't go out unless I have to. And always struggled with eye contact. Over the years weird routines have come in to play too. Ive had eating disorders too. I feel all over I'm deteriorating too, I can't even pin point it but I don't know who I am, wether I'm functioning right like an adult. 

  • I actually had to remind myself that I was reading your story and not mine, I've gone through almost the same life so I can and i will say i understand you and feel for you. My dad tried to get me diagnosed with autism at 4 years old but the person who came over had piercings and coloured hair so my grandmother kicked off with her saying she was unprofessional and that I was just a miss behaving spoiled child who was seeking attention... I was later diagnosed with bpd at 18. When I went to uni I was out casted and looked at differently but one person stood by me, my autistic friend, I'll her A, A understood me and the things I was feeling she went through alot herself. She would often tell me "your definitely autistic, I see alot of myself in you, you do alot things that are very characteristic." I would just tell her no I'm not I'm just emotionally unstable due to lack or validation and therefore struggled getting close to people... but after a while and her teaching me more about autism in females I started questioning everything in my life. I do believe that there is a very strong connection to bpd sufferes and autism and I think this should be looked into further and more people educated on both disorders.

    Thankyou for sharing 

  • Speaking as someone who also used to worry that I had both ASD & BPD, the overlap is actually with ADHD not BPD.

    I am currently on a waiting list for an ADHD assessment to complement my ASD diagnosis a few years ago. A few months ago I joined a support group for adults with ADHD or those awaiting diagnosis. When I mentioned at the first meeting I attended that I had at one point worried I might have BPD, several people laughed & said "Not Another One", since it seems to be quite common for people with Adult ADHD to incorrectly diagnose themselves with BPD after reading things online, which was certainly what I had done.

    The main reason for the confusion is a core feature of Adult ADHD called "Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria" which can mimic many of the symptoms of BPD, especially the fear of being alone, but for entirely different reasons. I was also horrifically bullied at school for many years which made me extremely susceptible to RSD to the point where I would try to change my personality in different social contexts in order to avoid rejection. This also mimics the chameleon features of BPD & once again for entirely different reasons. Once I understood more about the subject, I could see why so many people with Adult ADHD get confused & worry about BPD.

    Obviously I can't comment on your personal circumstance, especially since I wasn't diagnosed with ASD until age 55, but at least some aspects of what you have related do seem quite similar to my own experience.

    It might be worthwhile for you to look into Adult ADHD & in particular "Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria". I didnt know much about it either until I was referred for an assessment last year by a mental health professional who said that my descriptions of mental health issues were highly characterisic of ADHD.

    I found this website & particular document extremely helpful

  • I have both Aspergers and BPD, they were both diagnosed together at the age of 35, I'm now 41. I had many similar experiences to you but I also got abuse at home from my dad when he was drunk which was often because he couldn't understand me or why I wasn't more like him. I felt very undervalued, unprotected and unsafe both at home and at school due to my undiagnosed Aspergers which I personally believe definitely contributed to my BPD. I also have other physical illnesses, such as type 1 diabetes and fibromyalgia and I believe the stress of having to deal with them also contributed. The thing is we are all different and what is traumatic for one person may not be so to another, there are so many contributing factors that affect each of us how can we be defined by one or two labels? All I know is I'm broken and I'll probably always be broken and I'll probably never be fully ok with that but there's not much I can do about it because I can't afford the therapy that I probably need. But I'm in the best place I've been so far and I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.