Sometimes it’s not really autism. It’s narcissism.

But OF COURSE a narcissist will prefer to think they’re autistic. Anything is fair game, to avoid dealing with the reality that they’re narcissistic.

Lucy the Oracle
11 min readMay 13, 2024

I know this is controversial. I know this will probably ruffle a lot of feathers, especially where the shoe fits. So, as always, let me remind you once again: did the shoe fit? Put it on. And use it to walk the fuck out of here. I’m not afraid of emotional blackmail. I said what I said, would say it again, and will say it louder every time people complain. Kiss my arse.

And for those who relate, having dealt with these closeted narcissistic people: I hope my article gives you some relatability and comfort.

Now, on to the actual article, for those who are mature enough to understand it:

Photo by Zahra Amiri on Unsplash

First of all: autism and NPD are two entirely different things… But coincidentally (and conveniently, for narcissists), they sometimes have common traits.

For starters, one is a disorder; the other is not. And I’m not saying they should both be considered disorders. NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT. But what I am saying is: why, on Earth, do you think a narcissist who is hiding from the NPD diagnosis would confuse people into thinking they have another disorder? Narcissists don’t want to be seen as disordered. They want to be admired! They want to be respected, paid attention to, have others cater to them! Of course they won’t go for an actual disorder. Instead, a lot of these people “choose” to be mistaken for autistic, because autism is not bad. Especially in today’s world, where we are collectively, by and large, leaving behind misinformation about autism, this [mis]diagnosis can be attractive to them. That’s what they want: to be perceived as “not bad”. “Simply differently wired”. Anything that says their behaviour is not their fault and they don’t need to take accountability.

Always keep in mind: narcissists have the mental age of a toddler. In fact, every toddler is high in narcissism because it’s appropriate for their age to individuate, to seek a social “persona” (an ego, if you will) that will allow them to mingle and gradually become independent from their caregivers. It’s a very common occurrence for toddlers to be selfish from time to time, to have double standards that favour them and only them, to try escaping every kind of accountability, etc.

Adults, however, should know better.

Pay attention here: autism exists. It is a spectrum and it is relatively common. None of what I’m saying in this article (that some people manipulate professionals into misdiagnosing them — or misdiagnose themselves — as autistic) takes away from that fact at all.

In fact, my article is intended to help set the record straight about what autism is and isn’t, since I’m pretty sure certain narcissists out there are doing the autistic community a disservice.

Last but not least: I’m speculating. If you think I’m wrong, let me know (respectfully. Am I shouting at anyone? No. So, be civil). As a person with a vast experience putting up with narcissists and at the same time having nice interactions with autistic people, I think I should at least be allowed the freedom to speculate about this topic.

Photo by Morgan Housel on Unsplash

Without further ado, here is a list of traits that, at first impression, are “the same” in autistic people and people with NPD — but upon closer inspection, we notice that they’re actually very, very different.

Bear in mind that none of the traits below can be used to “find out” if a person in your life is autistic or narcissistic (or none). If you use my article for that purpose, you will make a lot of mistakes. I am only scratching the surface, so please be responsible. I’m simply sharing information you might agree with if you ALREADY KNOW someone who is narcissistic or autistic.

1. Autistic stims vs narcissistic restlessness when trying to fit in

As you’ll hopefully notice reading this article, autistic traits are things they are born with and cannot help but have at all times. Maybe they won’t be displayed with the same intensity at all times (it depends on a variety of factors), but they’re definitely ever-present. Narcissistic traits, on the other hand, follow a very predictable pattern and are usually borne out of a need to protect their fragile egos (or as is the case here, with what looks like “stim” at first impression, a side effect of being in the defensive all the time).

If you haven’t heard of autistic stims, take a look at this video. Stim is a habit that can take many forms, and autistic people usually report feeling good when they stim because it aids in regulating their sensory intake. It can look a bit weird if you’re not used to seeing it, but it’s nothing alarming.

A lot of narcissists display repetitive movements that can be mistaken for autistic stims (or even resemble autistic stims very closely), but the motivation behind this is different: instead of “releasing excess energy from the body” or attending to a sensory need, what narcissists are doing is trying to cope with the anxiety of keeping their “false self” up for display at all times (because deep down narcissists have very poor self-esteem and believe their real selves have no value at all, so they must be hidden, and what they show instead is a facade — a very uncomfortable one to maintain — which they think people expect to see). So instead of stim, what you’re looking at is a nervous tic that the narcissist can go a long time without, but might happen especially during periods of their lives when they’re having the spotlight for them; are having a lot of attention (and thus put even more pressure on themselves to appear flawless in public… Which results in heightened anxiety at home).

This is not to say there isn’t nuance. I’m sure a lot of autistic people have had to mask really hard during certain periods of their lives, for the same reason — to try and “fit in” with an ableist society. So, there is overlap here, but again, a very clear difference can be found in the motivation: the autistic need to mask tends to have a limit and have a survivalist purpose. The narcissistic need to hide their authenticity, on the other hand, has a more egotistic, competitive, and even sometimes vindictive motive — They try very hard to appear “better than” others in retaliation for having felt humiliated or “lesser than” in childhood.

2. Autistic sensory overload vs narcissistic selective “overload” when they don’t want to be responsible adults

Autistic people are often highly sensitive to sensory stimulus. They feel physically bothered by certain textures, sounds, brightness, etc that the neurotypical are unphased by. I have seen bloggers here on this platform postulate that every “highly sensitive person” is autistic, but I wouldn’t go that far. I have successfully sensitised myself to a lot of things thanks to specific meditative practices, so have I become autistic? Nope. Autism is genetic. But I acknowledge that most people aren’t all that interested in innovative research about “woo” and would rather stick to the beaten track, so, sure, go on, let’s say highly sensitive = autistic in every scenario if it helps. Whatever helps you.

On the other hand, narcissists (especially grandiose narcissists, but perhaps every kind fits in here too) perform high sensitivity in a very intentional and shall I say “theatrical” way as a get-out-of-jail-free card when others aren’t attending to their whims. I used to know a fully grown woman who, when confronted about her self-centered behaviour, would cover both her ears, frantically shake her head, and cry “stop! Please stop!”, just like a 3-year-old, pretending to be overwhelmed by the sound of someone’s voice (when in fact what she couldn’t stand was the responsibility). She probably had narcissistic tendencies.

Another interesting example is my mother, who sometimes had sleepless nights and demanded that we all stay quiet as a feather in the middle of the day — god forbid anyone made noise with regular daily activities — in order for her to sleep during the day because she was so sensitive to sound, the poor thing… Except, no, wait, on her good days she had no problem dancing to loud music or vacuuming every room (without earmuffs or anything like that) when someone else in the house had had a rough night and wanted some extra sleep. Ironic, isn’t it?

Autistic withdrawal vs narcissistic silent treatment when they feel wronged

You might have heard, read, or even seen autistic people suddenly withdraw to a quiet dark place. This, again, has to do with sensory overload. At first impression, it might seem confusing, but that’s because neurotypical people don’t experience the same level of sensitivty and thus don’t understand what it’s like to be under stress just because of “the elements”.

Similarly, narcissistic people who like to think of themselves as autistic will say they have the same kind of overload, but only — coincidentally, how ironic! How funny! — after an argument or a call out. They’ll cope out of that by claiming overwhelm, when in fact they just feel a morbid kind of pleasure in “punishing” the insolent people who dared confront them by giving the silent treatment.

Another tell-tale sign that a withdrawal might be coming from a narcissistic place is if whenever you bring up the same topic at a later time, in a quieter and less [allegedly] “overwhelming” time and place, they keep deflecting and using every strategy in the book not to engage with your valid concerns as an adult. In contrast, an autistic adult will probably answer your question at a later and calmer time.

Autistic difficulty with subtext vs narcissistic outrage at someone’s grey-rocking

This one is probably among the most annoying when it comes to narcissists who try to pass as autistic, because it helps feed the delusion that they’re “only autistic” when in fact there’s a lot of narcissism to be acknowledged and addressed.

So, there is a difference between someone who has genuine difficulty interpreting social cues and unsaid messages… VS a narcissist trying to get back at someone for grey-rocking. If you don’t know what grey rock is, take a look here. This difference lies especially in the fact narcissists do it selectively, and it’s very easy to notice because they very clearly use subtext and social cues in order to bait people into proving that the narcissist’s assumption is wrong (“guilty until proven innocent” sort of bait). Then, they suddenly “have a difficulty” when people ignore these baits.

For example: I used to know a man who threw at least one bait every five sentences when he felt he needed narcissistic supply. When someone wouldn’t fall for his baits, wouldn’t try to “set the record straight” on his outrageous assumptions coming out of nowhere or wouldn’t react with the emotional intensity he desired… And instead resorted to grey-rocking and only saying the bare necessary… He would come back the other day saying “oh, you see, I read too much into what you said but that’s because I’m autistic and I’m just trying to learn subtext”.

In fact, what he meant (if he were honest) is “I’m very bummed you didn’t get mad at me for baiting you, so that I could call you emotionally unstable and make YOU act out all the hate I harbour inside of me. Thanks for nothing. Now I’ll justify my failed attempt at annoying you by claiming to have a difficulty interpreting subtext, so that I don’t lose face with this”.

Autistic PDA vs narcissistic superiority complex

There is a lot of excellent material online about PDA, but my favourite by far is this article. Feel free to take a look and give it some love.

“Someone with PDA will go to extreme lengths to avoid demands placed upon them. And it’s not just limited to tasks or activities that a person doesn’t enjoy; it also extends to those that they would usually enjoy or benefit from!”

Indeed. There lies the difference between an autistic apparent refusal to help with a specific task (which is actually just another kind of overwhelm and has nothing personal against anyone in particular), VS a narcissist’s contempt for the mere peasant who is asking for their majesty’s help without first convincing the narcissist that it’s worth their while.

I have seen many a narcissist claim to experience PDA, again, as a way of saving face. In reality, these narcissists are probably aware that they have a superiority complex, feel slightly ashamed of it, but for some reason are still unable to address it — so they repackage it as something more understandable, which is becoming a bit of a buzzword.

The tricky bit is that sometimes, a narcissist will avoid doing something that would benefit their image or bring them something they want just because somebody else asked… So it looks like PDA, doesn’t it? At first impression, these 2 things might look indistinguishable. The difference is, once again, in the motivation very deep down: an autistic person’s “problem” is with the request itself (because it can feel like a very harsh demand even when it isn’t). A narcissist’s “problem”, on the other hand, is with who is this person who asked for help. It’s personal. It comes from a vindictive place. Given that most narcissists are constantly trying to feel like they’re superior to EVERYBODY, this demand avoidance will feel like a personal “thing” they have against everybody — even people they don’t know. But it’s still personal. It’s still about who asked, instead of being about how it was asked.

A similar phenomenon is when a narcissist will cry to anyone who will listen about how unfortunate they are with job hunting (because pity is also a form of attention!), but flat-out refuse any interviews for jobs that won’t grant them a high enough status. Funny double standard there. Some go as far as claiming PDA in these cases, too. And people fall for it.

Photo by Stephen McFadden on Unsplash

Keep in mind: neurodiversity has nothing to do with personality problems.

It sounds obvious, but it’s also easily forgotten in practice. Distinguishing an autistic from a narcissistic person isn’t difficult at all, in fact — all it takes is some getting to know them beyond the surface level.

Of course one could say that there are autistic people WITH narcissistic traits in the world. Nothing is stopping both from manifesting at the same time, perhaps in rare instances. However, this is out of the scope of today’s article, and I chose not to explore this possibility for the sake of staying on topic.

The bottom line is, any two “labels” (even outside the realm of Psychology) can present common traits that look like the same if you reach far enough. It is very unfortunate that narcissists are now trying to jump into the autistic bandwagon just for the sake of saving face [undeservedly, and largely through appropriation], but in the end of the day they are tricksters capable of co-opting anything they put their minds to.

Labels aside, always trust your gut. If a relationship with someone feels like it’s full of attempts at controlling and manipulating you, chances are there is some truth to that. You can always respect someone’s chosen label and give the person the benefit of the doubt, BUT choose not to engage with any occasional drama they create.



Lucy the Oracle

Oracle learner / spirit worker based in Ireland. Buddhist/polytheist. I don't read minds. I don't change minds. I don't sugarcoat. Take my message or leave it.