Asperger’s and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) have some symptom overlap, but they’re unique conditions. It’s possible to have both autism and a personality disorder.

Narcissism is a personality trait anyone can experience. “Narcissists” may be described as “having a big ego,” “lacking empathy,” or “being entitled.”

Being narcissistic from time to time is different from someone living with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) — a mental health condition that affects someone’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a distressing way.

Asperger’s is a developmental condition. Asperger’s now falls under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in diagnostic manuals, and some researchers have cautioned against using the name “Asperger’s” for historical reasons. This means that while many people may still identify as having Asperger’s or being an Aspie, all newer diagnoses will be for ASD.

Asperger’s and NPD are different but do have symptoms in common. Doctors even need to rule out personality disorders when making an autism diagnosis in adults.

Narcissism vs. NPD

In this article, we’ll sometimes use “narcissism” to refer to NPD. However, anyone can be narcissistic, while only up to 5% of people are estimated to have NPD.

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Narcissism or NPD might sometimes be confused with Asperger’s. This is because some Asperger’s traits can appear to be similar to narcissistic traits.

Mainly, what’s similar is how autistic people and people with NPD communicate and function socially.

People with both conditions may have difficulties with:

  • starting and maintaining relationships with others
  • feeling or showing empathy
  • paying attention or listening to others
  • daily functioning at work, in school, and in other areas of life due to relationship challenges

But the underlying motivation for these symptoms is where things differ.

Someone with Asperger’s may seem arrogant or self-involved because they’re compensating for their challenges with social communication. Someone with NPD may appear arrogant or self-involved because they feel superior to others.

Research from 2014 has found that some autistic people can act “narcissistically,” such as by:

  • being less likely to admit to their mistakes
  • being hypersensitive to criticism yet overly critical of others
  • appearing to be self-absorbed

These descriptions could also portray someone with NPD.

There are many signs and symptoms the two conditions don’t have in common.

Asperger’s is a neurodevelopmental condition, while personality disorders are ingrained patterns and behaviors that affect how you think, respond emotionally, relate to others, and manage your behaviors.

Here are some differences between autism and narcissism:

  • Restricted and repetitive behaviors: An ASD diagnosis requires someone to show restricted or repetitive behaviors. People with NPD don’t usually have this symptom.
  • Reason for not listening or being unempathetic: Many people with narcissism and autism are described as lacking empathy. People with ASD appear to lack empathy or not listen due to challenges with social interactions, especially with nonspeaking communication. People with NPD may be too focused on themselves to listen to or empathize with others.
  • Subject of preoccupation: People with NPD are often preoccupied with fantasies, especially concerning themselves. Autistic people are more likely to be preoccupied with objects (or parts of objects) or their interests.
  • Motivation for narcissistic traits: An autistic person could appear arrogant or egocentric to compensate for challenges they have with social interactions. Someone with NPD may appear this way because they’re unwilling or unable to empathize, they feel superior to others, or they’re taking advantage of situations to fulfill their own needs.

Symptoms of narcissism

Signs and symptoms of NPD can include:

  • a sense of self-importance and superiority, which often causes exaggeration of qualities and achievements
  • an unwillingness to recognize or empathize with how others are feeling
  • preoccupations with fantasies around success, beauty, love, etc.
  • a need for admiration
  • a sense of entitlement and belief that special treatment is deserved
  • intentionally taking advantage of others
  • appearing arrogant, haughty, or egocentric
  • feeling jealous often or believing others are envious of them

Symptoms may differ depending on several factors, including the level of severity or whether the person has other co-occurring conditions like depression, substance use disorder, or another personality disorder.

Someone will only receive an NPD diagnosis after a mental health professional can evaluate a long-term pattern of these symptoms. Most clinicians won’t diagnose a personality disorder in someone until that person is an adult.

Symptoms of Asperger’s

As noted in a 2006 article, signs and symptoms of Asperger’s listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), 4th Edition (DSM-4) included:

  • challenges with nonspeaking behaviors, like making eye contact or gesturing
  • showing no or little interest in sharing experiences with others
  • a lack of social and emotional reciprocity (give and take)
  • an intense preoccupation with certain interests
  • following routines and rituals in an inflexible way
  • repetition in motor movements, such as finger flapping or whole-body movements
  • a preoccupation with parts of objects

According to the DSM-4, someone would only receive an Asperger’s diagnosis if their symptoms significantly affected their ability to function daily. They also couldn’t have a significant delay in language or cognitive development. But in the DSM, 5th Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR), a person with these traits would receive an ASD diagnosis instead.

Narcissistic abuse typically refers to emotional or psychological abuse. This abuse can happen to anyone in a relationship with someone with NPD — a parent-child relationship, a romantic relationship, or a relationship with any family member or friend.

There’s not a clear-cut connection between narcissistic abuse and autism. However, 2019 research found that autistic children have a higher chance of experiencing maltreatment.

Research from 2015 adds that children with high levels of autistic traits are more likely to be targeted for abuse — sexual, emotional, and physical.

So, people on the spectrum may be more likely to be victims of narcissistic abuse.

Read more about how narcissistic abuse can affect you.

Research has been limited, so more data are needed, but according to research from 2023, 68% of autistic people also fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for at least one personality disorder.

A review of studies from 2021 noted that only 0% to 6.4% of people with ASD also had or fit the criteria for NPD.

While someone can receive both autism and NPD diagnoses, autism is more likely to coexist with other personality disorders, such as:

Researchers suggest that people with diagnosed personality disorders are more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for ASD. They add that adults with undiagnosed autism may have a higher chance of developing a personality disorder.

There’s a complex relationship between autism and narcissism — one that researchers are still looking into.

Autistic people and those with NPD both face challenges with social communication and relationships. While the motivations for certain behaviors may differ for each condition, outsiders may perceive these behaviors as egocentric, self-absorbed, or unempathetic, regardless of whether they’re caused by ASD or NPD.

Still, autism and NPD are unique conditions that need different types of support.

It’s possible to have both autism and NPD diagnosed, but this is rare. Autism is more likely to co-occur with other personality disorders like BPD.