What’s the Difference Between Asperger’s and Autism?
You may hear a lot of people mention Asperger’s syndrome in the same breath as autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Asperger’s was once considered different from ASD. But a diagnosis of Asperger’s no longer exists. The signs and symptoms that were once part of an Asperger’s diagnosis now fall under ASD.
There are historical differences between the term “Asperger’s” and what’s considered “autism.” But it’s worth getting into what exactly Asperger’s is and why it’s now considered a part of ASD.
Keep reading to learn more about each of these disorders.
About autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Not all autistic children exhibit the same signs of autism or experience these signs to the same degree.
That’s why autism is considered to be on a spectrum. There’s a wide range of behaviors and experiences that are considered to fall under the umbrella of an autism diagnosis.
Here’s a brief overview of behaviors that may cause someone to be diagnosed with autism:
- differences in processing sensory experiences, like touch or sound, from those who are considered “neurotypical”
- differences in learning styles and problem-solving approaches, like quickly learning complex or difficult topics but having difficulty mastering physical tasks or conversational turn-taking
- deep, sustained special interests in specific topics
- repetitive movements or behaviors (sometimes called “stimming”), like flapping hands or rocking back and forth
- strong desire to maintain routines or establishing order, like following the same schedule each day or organizing personal belongings a certain way
- difficulty processing and producing verbal or nonverbal communication, like having trouble expressing thoughts in words or displaying emotions outwardly
- difficulty processing or participating in neurotypical social interactive contexts, like by greeting someone back who’s greeted them
About Asperger’s syndrome
Asperger’s syndrome was previously considered a “mild” or “high-functioning” form of autism.
This means people who received an Asperger’s diagnosis tended to experience behaviors of autism that were often considered minimally different from those of neurotypical people.
Asperger’s was first introduced into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1994.
This happened because English psychiatrist Lorna Wing translated the works of Austrian physician Hans Asperger and realized his research found distinct characteristics in autistic children from those with “milder” symptoms.
Diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s syndrome
Here’s a brief summary of the diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s from the previous version of the DSM (many of these may seem familiar):
- having difficulty with verbal or nonverbal communication, such as eye contact or sarcasm
- having few or no long-term social relationships with peers
- lack of interest in taking part in activities or interests with others
- showing little to no response to social or emotional experiences
- having a sustained interest in a single special topic or very few topics
- strict adherence to routine or ritual behaviors
- repetitive behaviors or movements
- intense interest in specific aspects of objects
- experiencing difficulty in maintaining relationships, jobs, or other aspects of daily life because of these previously listed signs
- not having any delay in language learning or cognitive development typical of other, similar neurodevelopmental conditions
As of 2013, Asperger’s is now considered part of the autism spectrum and is no longer diagnosed as a separate condition.
Asperger’s and autism are no longer considered separate diagnoses. People who may have previously received an Asperger’s diagnosis instead now receive an autism diagnosis.
But many people who were diagnosed with Asperger’s before the diagnostic criteria changed in 2013 are still perceived as “having Asperger’s.”
And many people also consider Asperger’s as part of their identity. This is especially considering the stigma that still surrounds autism diagnoses in many communities around the world.
Yet the only real “difference” between the two diagnoses is that people with Asperger’s may be considered as having an easier time “passing” as neurotypical with only “mild” signs and symptoms that may resemble those of autism.