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Rev Psiquiatr Salud Ment. 2013 Oct-Dec;6(4):178-86. doi: 10.1016/j.rpsm.2012.07.005. Epub 2012 Sep 13.

Differential diagnosis between obsessive compulsive disorder and restrictive and repetitive behavioural patterns, activities and interests in autism spectrum disorders.

[Article in English, Spanish]

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  • 1Trastornos de Conducta del Departamento de Métodos de Investigación y Diagnóstico en Educación, Universidad de Barcelona, Barcelona, España; Posgrado «Diagnóstico e Intervención en los Trastornos del Espectro Autista», Universidad de Barcelona, Barcelona, España. Electronic address:



The obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and the restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests and activities inherent to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) share a number of features that can make the differential diagnosis between them extremely difficult and lead to erroneous overdiagnosis of OCD in people with autism.


In both cases there may appear to have a fixation on routine, ritualized patterns of verbal and nonverbal behavior, resistance to change, and highly restrictive interests, which becomes a real challenge for differentiating rituals, stereotypes and adherence to routines in ASD from obsessions and compulsions in OCD. This article provides key points to clarify this differential diagnosis through the analysis of emotional valence, content, function and psychological theories that explain the obsessions and compulsions in OCD, and the desire for sameness, stereotyped movements and limited interest in autism.


The terms "obsession" and "compulsion" should no longer be used when referring to patterns of behavior, interests or restricted and repetitive activities in autism due to syntonic characteristics, low perception of personal responsibility and low neutralizing efforts. Treatment focuses on changing the environment, the use of socio-communicative compensatory strategies and behavioral modification techniques to improve cognitive and behavioral flexibility. When there is comorbidity between, exposure behavioral and response prevention techniques are then used, followed by others of more cognitive orientation if necessary.

Copyright © 2012 SEP y SEPB. Published by Elsevier Espana. All rights reserved.


Autism spectrum disorders; Comportamientos, intereses y actividades restrictivos y repetitivos; Compulsiones; Compulsions; Obsesiones; Obsessions; Obsessive compulsive disorder; Restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities; Trastorno obsesivo compulsivo; Trastornos del espectro autista

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