Differences between Asperger’s and Autism

Autism and asperger’s syndrome are well known conditions that affect a broad range of social skills, behavior, speech and communication. They are forms of neurodiversity, which means people who have either condition are not considered to have learning difficulties or deficits, but rather they have learning differences. 

Understandably, as these conditions are on a spectrum (Austistic Spectrum Disorders), there is a lot of confusion surrounding them. This can provoke a lot of anxiety for people who suspect they may have autism or Asperger’s, or who’ve been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum and are searching for more details about their condition. 

Is there really any difference between Asperger’s and autism?

We’ll explore two common neurodiverse profiles: Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism. Then we’ll define each condition and examine the similarities and differences between between Asperger’s and Autism. But first, let’s see how they fit within autism spectrum disorder. 

Autism spectrum disorder

The National Autistic Society describes autism as “a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.” 

It goes on to explain that everyone who has autism will share a number of characteristics, but these will affect them differently. People with autism may also have learning disabilities and issues with mental health.This means they’ll need extra support at school or in their day-to-day lives. 

In the US, the Autism Society says much the same. It also explains that autism

typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation.” 

The Autism Society

While autism presents itself in childhood, it does not necessarily mean that people will be diagnosed early. In fact, some people aren’t diagnosed until adulthood. 

In many cases, adults self-diagnose with the help of tools such as our Online Cognitive Test. This assesses your memory, concentration/attention, executive functions, planning, and coordination. 

No matter how you arrive at your diagnosis, it can be a stressful period. But knowledge is power. If you are armed with all the information, it can help you to access the correct services and support. 

Is Asperger’s syndrome a type of autism? 

So, is there a difference between Asperger’s and Autism? According to the above definitions, autism is a spectrum condition. That means that when someone has autism, the impact on their life can range from slight to severe. It will depend on the different ways they are affected by their condition. 

A history of Asperger’s syndrome

The syndrome was first described in the 1940s by Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger. He observed children whose intelligence and language ability were normal, but who still seemed to struggle with communicating and with their social skills. 

His research was not widely acknowledged until the 1990s. Asperger’s syndrome – as a separate disorder – was added to the WHO’s International Classification of Disease in 1993. Then, in 1994, it was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Here, the difference between Asperger’s and autism was defined in terms of early childhood development.

A change in definition 

However, by 2019, both handbooks had subsumed Asperger’s syndrome into ASD, autism spectrum disorder. So why keep on using the term Asperger’s syndrome? 

Although Asperger’s syndrome is no longer viewed as a separate disorder, the characteristics described can be useful to know where you fit on the autistic spectrum. Aspergers vs autism is no longer a diagnostic dichotomy – instead, Asperger’s syndrome fits inside autism as a profile type

There are other profile types too along the autistic spectrum, too. It ranges from non-verbal autism to high functioning autism, which can appear very similar to Asperer’s syndrome. 

High functioning autism vs Asperger’s syndrome

So when it comes to high functioning autism and Asperer’s syndrome, what are the similarities – and what are the differences

Both of these profiles experience similar difficulties in relating to and communicating with the people around them. However, there are a few studies that suggest some differences between Asperger’s and autism: 

Teaching children with autism to read and write
Children with autism can overcome reading difficulties. (by Lina Kivaka from Pexels)

Linguistic development of Asperger’s and Autism

Both high functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome exist on the milder end of the autistic spectrum, within a normal cognitive range. However, high-functioning autism differs from Asperger’s syndrome in language development

Autistic children typically display a language delay which you don’t see in Asperger’s children. In fact, children with Asperger’s often have good language skills, but they struggle with social skills.

Age of diagnosis of Asperger’s and Autism

Another area where the two profiles can be distinguished is the average age of diagnosis. The difference between Asperger’s and Autism is that the diagnosis of autism can be made from the age of two, and the average age is three years old. However, if a child fits the Asperger’s profile, it is typical for diagnosis to happen much later, around the age of seven.

Similarities between Asperger’s and Autism

Evidence has shown that there are a lot of similarities in the two profiles. The world can often feel very overwhelming for people with ASD and social situations can be extremely stressful

People with high functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome often display an intense focus on one particular area of interest or hobby. They also struggle with changes or disruptions to their routines. 

When it comes to comparing high functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome, the similarities far outweigh the differences. 

A bit different from the norm 

Both these profiles of people within the autistic spectrum are likely to find their condition relatively manageable. With the right support from medical professionals and the people around them, people with high functioning autism and Asperger’s profiles go on to live successful lives. Although it involves understanding life differently, the differences between people with Asperger’s and Autism with those who do not have these conditions are secondary.

In fact, there are some highly successful people with autistic spectrum disorder. From actors like Daryl Hannah and Dan Ackroyd, to entrepreneurs like the late Steve Jobs, it’s clear that ASD does not have to be a barrier to success. 

Activist Greta Thunberg, who also has ASD, wrote:

I have Asperger’s and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And – given the right circumstances – being different is a superpower.”

Greta Thunberg

Sources:
– https://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/asd.aspx
– https://www.autism-society.org/what-is/
– http://www.tonyattwood.com.au/books-by-tony-m/resource-papers/69-is-there-a-difference-between-aspergers-syndrome-and-high-functioning-autism
– Michele Noterdaeme, Elke Wriedt, Christian Höhne. Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism: language, motor and cognitive profiles. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 2009, 19 (6), pp.475-481. ff10.1007/s00787-009-0057-0ff. ffhal-00535173f
– https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2861294/