What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that, at its most extreme, is completely disruptive to the life of the person who has it. It got its name from the two poles described in psychology as Depressive, and Manic, which is also why it’s called Manic Depressive Disorder. It’s very rare that children would be diagnosed with this disorder and even rarer that a child with autism would be diagnosed with it.
Nature of bipolar disorder
The nature of bipolar disorder is such that it only surges to the surface in mid to late teens and early adulthood. The assumption is that it runs in families, often skipping a generation between those affected and that the hormonal changes in the brain activate the genetic factors for bipolar disorder. In its own sense, it is a “developmental” disorder because it doesn’t strike until the later teen years and early college years. Bipolar or manic depressive disorder has been a clinical diagnosis for over a century and recognized as a mental illness for much longer.
Bipolar disorder affects women and men in a ratio of
Bipolar significantly affects women more often than men. Two thirds to three fourths of bipolar patients are women, and the remaining percentage are men. This is the reasoning behind the rarity of the co-diagnosis of bipolar disorder and autism spectrum disorder because the small percentage affected by both simultaneously would be girls and women. That’s a very small percentage, given that fewer girls than boys are diagnosed with an autism disorder and the reverse is true of bipolar disorder with boys.
However, another factor has to be examined. Young ladies who were first diagnosed with autism might not be high functioning enough or their symptoms might resemble autism symptoms so much that discovering they have bipolar disorder as well would be extremely difficult. Behavior analysts and therapists both concur that probably less than two percent of all girls with autism early in life also develop bipolar later on. The expectation by most is that they will never see a patient with this dual diagnosis in their lifetime.
That’s not to say it’s a myth or doesn’t happen. It certainly can because the autistic brain is already altered and bipolar alters a brain even more. Teens with both would probably be institutionalized because their level of functioning even on medication would be so poor that a school system and the parents could not possibly manage.
Given that medications work differently on the autistic brain, there’s no telling how a co-diagnosed autistic/ bipolar brain would tolerate something like lithium, a common prescription for the treatment of bipolar disorder. A doctor would be extremely wary of prescribing anything with both of these issues co-existing in the same person. It would be a very terrifying time for the patient as well as everyone involved with her care.
As for autistic males with bipolar, the odds are even less. Less than one percent of autistic male children are estimated to have or would develop bipolar disorder. It is easily dismissed with odds this low in both males and females.