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Huntington's Disease Youth Organization

Can HD be similar to autism?

HDYO has more information about HD available for young people, parents and professionals on our site:

www.hdyo.org

*Q. Hello! Do you know whether early or prodromal HD can manifest as similar to autism? I have the HD gene and have been diagnosed with autism and my psychiatrist thought that might be the case and is in the process of referring me to a neuro psychiatrist to try to find out. I was wondering. Thanks for your help. *

Brandy, Young Adult, UK

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A. Hi Brandy.

Thanks for this really interesting question. It’s quite complicated. Some symptoms of autism are similar to the symptoms of HD (difficulty in understanding other peoples’ states of mind is common in both conditions). However, the really big difference is that way that the two illnesses behave.

For a diagnosis of autism, you need to have shown this sort of problem from the earliest stages (usually it becomes apparent at the age of 2 or three years and doesn’t change much). In HD, usually people have quite normal social development until adult life and then start to lose these skills.

Another way of looking at it is that in autism, you never develop the social cognitive skills. In HD, you learn them all but can lose them gradually, which is a really different picture.

If you have autism (i.e. you’ve always had difficulties in social cognition), then there is no known connection between that and HD. However, if your social cognitive skills developed quite normally and then have gotten worse really slowly, than this might be related to HD (although there are other possible reasons for this apart from HD)

I hope that makes sense.

Best wishes

Hugh