Aspergers and autism difference

Asperger’s Syndrome


Asperger’s syndrome (also known as Asperger’s Disorder) was first described in the 1940s by Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger, who observed autism-like behaviors and difficulties with social and communication skills in boys who had normal intelligence and language development. Many professionals felt Asperger’s syndrome was simply a milder form of autism and used the term “high-functioning autism” to describe these individuals. Uta Frith, a professor at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience of University College London and editor of Autism and Asperger Syndrome, describes individuals with Asperger’s as “having a dash of autism.”

Asperger’s Disorder was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) in 1994 as a separate disorder from autism. However, there are still many professionals who consider Asperger’s Disorder a less severe form of autism. In 2013, the DSM-5 replaced Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders with the umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.


What distinguishes Asperger’s Disorder from classic autism are its less severe symptoms and the absence of language delays. Children with Asperger’s Disorder may be only mildly affected, and they frequently have good language and cognitive skills. To the untrained observer, a child with Asperger’s Disorder may just seem like a neurotypical child behaving differently.

Children with autism are frequently viewed as aloof and uninterested in others. This is not the case with Asperger’s Disorder. Individuals with Asperger’s Disorder usually want to fit in and have interaction with others, but often they don’t know how to do it. They may be socially awkward, not understand conventional social rules or show a lack of empathy. They may have limited eye contact, seem unengaged in a conversation and not understand the use of gestures or sarcasm.

Their interests in a particular subject may border on the obsessive. Children with Asperger’s Disorder often like to collect categories of things, such as rocks or bottle caps. They may be proficient in knowledge categories of information, such as baseball statistics or Latin names of flowers. They may have good rote memory skills but struggle with abstract concepts.

One of the major differences between Asperger’s Disorder and autism is that, by definition, there is no speech delay in Asperger’s. In fact, children with Asperger’s Disorder frequently have good language skills; they simply use language in different ways. Speech patterns may be unusual, lack inflection or have a rhythmic nature, or may be formal, but too loud or high-pitched. Children with Asperger’s Disorder may not understand the subtleties of language, such as irony and humor, or they may not understand the give-and-take nature of a conversation.

Another distinction between Asperger’s Disorder and autism concerns cognitive ability. While some individuals with autism have intellectual disabilities, by definition, a person with Asperger’s Disorder cannot have a “clinically significant” cognitive delay, and most possess average to above-average intelligence.

While motor difficulties are not a specific criterion for Asperger’s, children with Asperger’s Disorder frequently have motor skill delays and may appear clumsy or awkward.


Diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder has increased in recent years, although it is unclear whether it is more prevalent or more professionals are detecting it. When Asperger’s and autism were considered separate disorders under the DSM-IV, the symptoms for Asperger’s Disorder were the same as those listed for autism; however, children with Asperger’s do not have delays in the area of communication and language. In fact, to be diagnosed with Asperger’s, a child must have normal language development as well as normal intelligence. The DSM-IV criteria for Asperger’s specified that the individual must have “severe and sustained impairment in social interaction, and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests and activities that must cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”

The first step to diagnosis is an assessment, including a developmental history and observation. This should be done by medical professionals experienced with autism and other PDDs. Early diagnosis is also important as children with Asperger’s Disorder who are diagnosed and treated early in life have an increased chance of being successful in school and eventually living independently.

Contact us for information on Asperger’s resources, including support groups and websites.

Parents often breathe a sigh of relief when their child takes his first step, speaks her first word, and can spontaneously read his mother’s facial expression.

For children with autism, they might take the first step like all other children, but the first word and emotional communication might be a long way off. In some cases, it may never come.

The journey is different for a child with Asperger’s disorder. The first word may be early, followed by an explosion of language. Soon parents start wondering whether he might be gifted.

But these thoughts quickly become sidelined by concern as the child enters school and seems to struggle with friendships, play, and seems rigid and obsessive, despite a fantastic vocabulary.

Parents may become concerned because their child just never seems to be able to hit the mark socially, emotionally, and academically. And there is something unusual about the intensity of the child’s interests which seem to take over their life.

Our current psychiatric manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) Fourth Edition, catagorises autism and Asperger’s disorder as separate disorders. This is based on the very different challenges these young people face with language, and cognitive development.

But soon this will change, and the two disorders will be grouped under one umbrella term.

Understanding the difference

There is no clear biomarker or genetic test which can define or separate autism and Asperger’s disorder.

With some families’ diagnostic journey beginning in late primary school or even in secondary school, differentiating between autism and Asperger’s disorder can be difficult.

In the absence of an extensive developmental history of language and social development, two normally intelligent young people, one with autism, the other with Asperger’s disorder, both presenting with social difficulties, and a history of repetitive, stereotyped behaviour, may appear to have the same struggles.

The common challenges and interests may even be the bedrock for a wonderful friendship between a child with autism and Asperger’s disorder.

The dilemma with this differentiation has fuelled a debate in clinical and academic circles spanning two decades: are autism and Asperger’s disorder the same disorder and should be “lumped” together diagnostically, or should we continue to “split” them.

To overcome the clinical confusion between a diagnosis of autism and Asperger’s disorder, the working party for the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual has recommended that Asperger’s disorder be incorporated with autism under the category of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).

Origins of autism and Asperger’s

Autism was first described by Leo Kanner in 1943 when he studied 11 children who seemed to relate better to objects than people.

Kanner said if these children eventually developed language skills, it was likely to be characterised by echolalia (repetition of words or syllables), pronoun reversal (referring to themselves as others have referred to them), and concreteness.

One year after Kanner defined autism, Hans Asperger published a description of children with the condition “autistic psychopathology”.

Asperger described a child who was precocious in learning to talk and often talked in a pedantic way about a topic of particular, circumscribed interest.

Asperger also observed that these children produced stilted and repetitive speech, which appeared to lack intonation. He noted that they were interested in social relationships, but lacked the ability to understand the rules of social behaviour.

Asperger noted that his group of patients moved in a “clumsy” way.

Despite the many similarities between Kanner’s and Asperger’s patient groups, Asperger disagreed that his disorder was a variant of Kanner’s autism.


We have only known about Asperger’s disorder since 1981 when Hans Asperger’s work was translated into English (refer to Rinehart et al, 2002 for complete historic references).

Asperger’s disorder did not appear as a separate disorder in standard diagnostic manuals until version four of the DSM series, only 16 years ago.

Looking back I can recall several young people I knew in my community who had significant social and communication difficulties, but were very bright and verbally able.

These young people were not diagnosed with any mental health disorders but were marginalized and seen as the “quirky kids” or eccentric, and had an underlying sadness.

There is no doubt the inclusion of Asperger’s disorder in DSM-IV-TR has positively impacted on the lives of these young people who are now better understood for their individuality, and have the support of wonderful organisations and support groups.

Categorising Asperger’s disorder as a milder type of autism is problematic because it implies that life is less challenging for a child with Asperger’s disorder compared to a child with autism.

But in some cases, young people with Asperger’s can suffer from more severe anxiety and depression than their peers who have been diagnosed with autism – and there is nothing mild about clinical anxiety and depression.

The Asperger’s label has also served as an important guide to help parents successfully link their children to fulfilling and rewarding social settings, activates, and later, careers.


The label change comes as some new discoveries are being made to better understand the disorders, including brain differences and subsequent diagnostic and treatment tools.

Melbourne researchers are using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to show that cortical inhibition, a common brain process that allows the suppression of brain cell activity, is impaired among young people with high-functioning autism, but not among young people with Asperger’s disorder.

The movement pattern or gait studies conducted at Monash University have shown that children with autism have a particular style of walk. Given that children walk before they develop social skills, understanding early walking patterns might expedite autism diagnosis.

The different life journey a child with Asperger’s disorder may take compared to a child with autism, together with other brain and psychological differences, may inform the future development of assessment tools, biomedical and other treatments for each disorder.

And who knows, in the future there may be a stronger scientific basis to argue against the lumping of the autism and Asperger’s disorder diagnostic category. Only time will tell.

More information and facts about autism

The difference between autism and aspergers

By incluzy

Aspergers and high-functioning autism tend to be misunderstood due to the fact that they are both on the autism spectrum. Asperger’s syndrome is one of the two main forms of autism. There are similarities between the two, which makes it confusing at times to distinguish one from the other. Though there are similarities, there are key differences that distinguish high-level autism from asperger’s syndrome. When reading this blog, it is important that only a few similarities and differences are highlighted. Autism and aspergers are complex and research still shows new results.


There is a grey area in regards to the differences between high functioning autism and aspergers. People with both disabilities are identified to have difficulties in behavioral settings. For example, people with high-level autism and aspergers syndrome struggle with forming relationships and tend to not maintain eye contact when conversing with others. It is common for people with both autism and aspergers to experience difficulties with reading people’s facial expressions and hand gestures. Research has found that there are four areas in particular that distinguish the two: level of cognitive function, language development, motor skills, and aging. When undergoing diagnosis, it is common for there to be a debate of where or not a patient has high-functioning autism or aspergers.

When Comparing high-level autism and aspergers to the more common forms of autism, research has shown that people with high-level autism and aspergers have an above average intelligence level while still undergoing difficulties in social situations.The treatments and practices for high-functioning autism and aspergers are very similar. In today’s society, the factors that distinguish the two remain controversial.


Unlike autism (even high-functioning), it is hard to identify one with aspergers at a young age. People with asperger’s syndrome at a young age do not experience delayed language development. This is found to be a key difference between autism and aspergers. Additionally, it is common for people with aspergers to have an obsession with random things. People with autism tend to have stronger connections with certain things, however it is not on the level of obsession. Though the probability is low, people with aspergers can be brilliant, even though they struggle with communication. However, the focus of aspergers should not focus on identifying the disability with intelligence levels, but instead one should focus on the three areas that are used to diagnose people with this syndrome: how they socialize, communicate, and behave. Overall, professionals in the area of learning disabilities are equipped and skilled in identifying one with either austism or aspergers, thought it is not always clear and may take additional testing. The study of autism and aspergers has come a long way, however research and awareness need to continue in order to learn more about these disabilities.

Thank you for reading this blog. We hope you found this article informative and you learned about the differences between high-functioning autism and aspergers. If you have any questions, please contact Incluzy. We encourage you to check out our disabilities job support. Also, check out our previous articles on our website.

What Is Asperger Syndrome?

Asperger syndrome, or Asperger’s, is a previously used diagnosis on the autism spectrum. In 2013, it became part of one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5).

Typical to strong verbal language skills and intellectual ability distinguish Asperger syndrome from other types of autism.

Asperger syndrome generally involves:

  • Difficulty with social interactions
  • Restricted interests
  • Desire for sameness
  • Distinctive strengths

Strengths can include:

  • Remarkable focus and persistence
  • Aptitude for recognizing patterns
  • Attention to detail

Challenges can include:

  • Hypersensitivities (to lights, sounds, tastes, etc.)
  • Difficulty with the give and take of conversation
  • Difficulty with nonverbal conversation skills (distance, loudness, tone, etc.)
  • Uncoordinated movements, or clumsiness
  • Anxiety and depression

The tendencies described above vary widely among people. Many learn to overcome their challenges by building on strengths.

Though the diagnosis of Asperger syndrome is no longer used, many previously diagnosed people still identify strongly and positively with being an “Aspie.”

Asperger therapies and services

Find the following services near you using the Autism Speaks Resource Guide.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help address anxiety and other personal challenges.

Social skills training classes can help with conversational skills and understanding social cues.

Speech therapy can help with voice control.

Physical and occupational therapy can improve coordination.

Psychoactive medicines can help manage associated anxiety, depression and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

How has our understanding of Asperger syndrome evolved?

1944: Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger described four strikingly similar young patients. They had normal to high intelligence. But they lacked social skills and had extremely narrow interests. The children also shared a tendency to be clumsy.

1981: British psychiatrist Lorna Wing published a series of similar case studies. In it, she coined the term “Asperger syndrome.”

1994: Asperger syndrome listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-4).

2013: Asperger syndrome and other previously separate types of autism folded into one umbrella diagnosis of “autism spectrum disorder” in DSM-5.

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