August 7, 2018

Understanding The Difference Between Asperger And Autism

Distinguishing between Asperger Syndrome and autism is challenging. Ongoing research on autism-spectrum disorder means that the definition is constantly changing.

What was accepted twenty years ago has been reevaluated and reclassified, and it is likely that the views we have today will be drastically different in twenty years.

How Has Our Understanding of Asperger’s Syndrome Evolved?

In 1944, Hans Asperger, an Austrian pediatrician, published the first scientific study of children with autism. He also described some of his patients to have similar symptoms. His patients had normal to high intelligence, but they lacked social skills. Their interests were limited.

In 1981, British psychiatrist Lorna Wing published a series of case studies where she coined the term “Asperger Syndrome.”

In 1994, Asperger’s Syndrome was included in the fourth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).

In 2003, the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership (GRASP) was formed to be an organization run by people with Asperger’s Syndrome and ASD.

In 2013, Asperger’s Syndrome and certain other separate types of autism was gathered under the umbrella diagnosis of “Autism Spectrum Disorder” in the fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

History of Asperger’s

Asperger’s Syndrome used to be considered a different diagnosis than ASD as a standalone diagnosis. Named after Hans Asperger, a Viennese pediatrician, it was first discovered in 1944.

Asperger described a set of behavior patterns shown by some of his patients, most of whom were males.

He noticed that despite normal development progress in terms of intelligence and language, these patients had impaired social skills. They also presented restricted and repetitive behaviors, which are now the hallmark symptoms for ASD.

However, it was discovered that such symptoms present differently than those seen in individuals with autism.

Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) was added to the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association in 1994.

In 2013, Asperger’s Syndrome was removed from the diagnostic manual as a stand alone diagnosis with the publishing of DSM-V.

Its symptoms and signs now fall under the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Causes of Asperger’s vs. Autism

Various studies have looked into the cause of autism spectrum disorders like Asperger’s. The exact cause is still being researched.

Some studies suggest that a combination of factors such as genetics and environment may account for the differences.

However, one thing that has been debunked numerous times is that autism spectrum disorders are not caused by an individual’s upbringing or their social circumstances.

Read more: Autism Spectrum Disorder - The Definitive Guide

Genetic Factor

Genes seem to affect if a person will develop Asperger’s. Although no one specific gene has been isolated to cause Asperger’s, it is found that the disorder runs in families.

Although there is more risk for younger siblings of a child with Asperger’s to develope the syndrome, probability of it vary research shows.

In addition, studies showed that if one twin has autism spectrum disorder in identical twins, the other twin may also have the disorder with 36% to 95% chance.

Environmental Factor

Studies suggest that there may be some environmental triggers that can cause Asperger’s.

Although this topic still needs to be researched more, some experts have theorized that during pregnancy, certain issues may increase the risk for a baby to develop an autism spectrum disorder.

  • Viral infection
  • Complications in birth
  • Use of certain drugs

However, exposure to such risks does not necessarily mean that the child will develop an autism spectrum disorder.

Characteristics of Autism and Asperger’s

Characteristics of Asperger’s vary from individual to individual. However, there are certain symptoms shown by an individual that makes the diagnosis possible. These are:

  • Persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction
  • Restricted and repetitive behaviors

Asperger’s Syndrome is no longer a stand alone diagnosis with publishing of DSM-V. The characteristics may seem really similar to that of autism.

Here is a summary of diagnostic criteria used of Asperger’s Syndrome:

  • Difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Lack of interest in taking part in activities
  • Tendency to be alone
  • Limited interest in certain topics
  • Strict adherence to routines
  • Not having delayed language or cognitive development

Aside from not having delayed language or cognitive development, all symptoms can also be seen in individuals with autism.

Similarities of Autism and Asperger’s

As mentioned before, Asperger’s is now a part of autism spectrum disorders.

However, back when the syndrome had its own diagnosis, the symptoms were really similar to that of autism. The following were the similar symptoms:

  • Difficulty in interpreting verbal and non-verbal language
  • Difficulty in understanding gestures, facial expressions, jokes, etc.
  • Difficulty in understanding other’s thoughts and feelings
  • Difficulty in expressing emotions
  • Seeming insensitive, blunt, rude, strange, inappropriate
  • Difficulty in making friends
  • Restricted and repetitive behaviors
  • Limited interests
  • Depth of knowledge in that area of interest
  • Sensitivity to certain sounds, textures, smells, tastes, etc.

Differences between Asperger and Autism

Although it is hard to test IQ scores of children with ASD because of the nature of the disorder; lately it is known that they have average or above average intelligence scores.

Those with Asperger’s, on the other hand, predominantly score on par with or higher than their peers. Frequently they have superior IQ scores.

Generally, people with Asperger do not suffer from the speech impairments or inabilities that often characterize those with an autism spectrum disorder.

While there may be difficulty in understanding the subtitles of speech (like idioms, jokes, or sarcasm), people with Asperger’s possess the ability to speak and annunciate clearly.

In addition, autism spectrum disorders are usually spotted in children before they reach school-age.

This is because the symptoms (and their severity) present much earlier than those of Asperger’s.

Because Asperger affects sociality and communication, it easily goes undetected until an affected child encounters difficulties in school.

Diagnosis of Autism and Asperger’s

As we discussed before, Asperger’s Syndrome is now a part of ASD diagnosis. Its signs and symptoms differ from one person to another.

There are certain symptoms that need to be present in an individual in order for ASD diagnosis to be made.

The person will be assessed in terms of having persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction and restricted and repetitive behaviors. These are seen since early childhood.

The following symptoms can mean that your child has ASD. If you see the following signs in your child, seek professional help:

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Difficulty in interpreting verbal and non-verbal language
  • Difficulty in understanding gestures, facial expressions, jokes, etc.
  • Difficulty in understanding other’s thoughts and feelings
  • Difficulty in expressing emotions
  • Seeming insensitive, blunt, rude, strange, inappropriate
  • Difficulty in making friends
  • Restricted and repetitive behaviors
  • Limited interests
  • Depth of knowledge in that area of interest
  • Sensitivity to certain sounds, textures, smells, tastes, etc.

Language Development for Autism

Individuals with autism have difficulty with language development. Each individual with autism develops at their own rate.

Children with ASD may find it difficult to communicate with other people. Their language may develop slowly or not at all.

They have significant issues with understanding and/or using spoken language. Non-verbal cues like gestures may be difficult to understand for them.

Autistic children generally have issues with their receptive language (understanding what others say), expressive language (expressing their thoughts and feelings by using words and gestures), and using these language skills in appropriate manners.

Language Development for Asperger’s

Language development in children with Asperger’s Syndrome is often typical in terms of verbal language. Children with Asperger’s Syndrome are generally delayed in their use of language.

Compared to other types of autism spectrum disorders, those diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome do not have significant delays or difficulties in language or cognitive development. They have extensive vocabulary.

While their language develops somewhat typically, their non-verbal language development declines as they grow up.

This decline in non-verbal language impacts the overall language development, as it is the structure supporting the functional communication.

Language development in people with AS may appear somewhat typical compared to other forms of autism.

However, the language challenges faced can be more complex and at a higher level compared to other forms of autism spectrum disorders.

Is It Autism or Asperger’s?

Asperger’s Syndrome became part of the umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The symptoms of autism and Asperger’s mostly overlap. Symptoms that distinguish Asperger’s from Autism diagnosis is the typical strong verbal language skills.

Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome have difficulty in:

  • Social interactions
  • Restricted and repetitive behaviors
  • Restricted interests
  • Tendency to stick to routines
  • Distinctive strengths

These vary from one person to another, just like ASD.

In addition to the symptoms above, individuals with autism strongly struggle with delayed language and communication.

If you feel like your child is suffering from delayed speech, they might be on the spectrum.

Are Asperger’s and Autism the Same?

Asperger’s Symptom was added in 1994 to the fourth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of American Psychiatric Association.

This was a separate disorder from Autism back then. In 2013, the DSM-V removed Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders and gathered them under the umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Although it is no longer used, some professionals still consider Asperger’s Disorder a less severe form of autism.

In addition, some people who were previously diagnosed with the symptom still strongly identify with being with Asperger’s.

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What Should I Do If My Child Has Asperger’s?

As we mentioned numerous times before, Asperger’s Syndrome is no longer diagnosed as a condition by itself.

It is now a part of many disorders categorized under the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

If you are concerned that your child may have issues with their social development, unusual patterns and different behaviors, you should consult a pediatrician first.

Pediatrician will be able to assess the situation and may refer your child to a specialist if need be.

These specialists include developmental pediatricians, child clinical psychologists or other clinicians who are experienced in dealing with autism spectrum disorders. They will conduct certain tests to see if the child is on the spectrum.

The specialist will ask parents and caregivers various questions to determine the child’s development and other skills and issues.

They will also interact with the child to detect if there are any symptoms in terms of interacting with others. In this assessment, the child’s language abilities will also be examined.

Getting a correct diagnosis on your child’s disorder will be a great way to start to equip them with what they need to have a balanced and normal life.

It may be a difficult process for the parents and caregivers to get ASD diagnosis. But with professional help and your support, your child can receive therapies and interventions that will help them live an independent and a quality life.

Intervention for Autism and Asperger’s

Interventions and treatments for Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome should include various approaches and be tailored to the individual’s needs.

It is important to involve professionals, as well as parents and teachers.

Early intervention addresses core symptoms of AS/ASD and tackles poor communication skills and restricted and repetitive behaviors.

The following methods are used in the interventions for AS/ASD:

  • Social skills training
  • Speech-language therapy
  • Behavior therapies
  • Special education classes
  • Medication
  • Family support
  • Occupational therapy
  • Play therapy

The combination may change as each person’s developmental level and needs vary.

These are not “cures”. They are used to alleviate some of the symptoms and increase the quality of life for the individual on the spectrum.

What Are The Strengths of Asperger’s

Aside from the struggles people with Asperger’s and on the spectrum, they also have certain strengths in various aspects of life. Here are some of those strengths:

  • Average to high intelligence
  • Rich vocabulary
  • Deep knowledge on topics of interest
  • Visual way of thinking
  • Thinking outside the box
  • Strong focus
  • Ability to spend time alone
  • Ability to concentrate for long periods of time on activities
  • Being detail-oriented
  • Strong work ethic
  • Ability to play with language
  • Tendency to follow rules

Treatment Options for Autism

Every individual with autism is unique. They face different challenges and have various strengths. There is no specific treatment that will fit all.

There may also be additional medical conditions with autism, such as gastrointestinal issues. Addressing these conditions will improve the quality of life for the individual.

Therapies targeting communication and social skills as well as therapies that will teach other skills will also benefit the individual.

Treatment should be personalized for the individual’s specific needs. The treatment can involve behavioral interventions, therapies, or medication.

The following are used as treatment and interventions, by themselves or in combination with one another:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
  • Speech Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy (OT)

Treatments for Asperger’s

There is no “cure” for the syndrome. That being said, treatments can be used to help individuals cope with the symptoms.

Here are some of the treatments used:

Speech Therapy

Consulting a speech pathologist could be really helpful. This therapy could help with learning to control the voice.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In this type of therapy, the individual can learn new social skills. Working with a cognitive behavioral therapist will help coping with emotional effects of the disorder, such as anxiety.

Medication

Prescription drugs can be used for adults to treat certain symptoms like hyperactivity. These are also used to try to reduce symptoms of Asperger’s. Some of these medications can include antipsychotics and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

autism vs aspergers

Growing Up With Asperger’s

Having a developmental disorder can have a great toll on the individual’s life. Since people with Asperger’s have a tendency to be alone due to social difficulties, individuals can feel lonely and isolated.

People diagnosed with Asperger’s stated that they felt like they did not “fit in” when they were in elementary school.

The pressure from typically developed peers also did not help. Some state that they were made fun of due to their differences.

Having unusual interests may distance the individual with Asperger’s from their peers. While everyone is interested in sports or music, the individual may have limited interest in certain topics, such as reading books on certain topics.

The inability to make friends due to these may make the individual feel sad and depressed.

People with Asperger’s diagnosis stated that they were left behind in school as others did not understand or pay attention to their needs.

Their restricted and repetitive behaviors were considered “obsession”. Some also stated that their parents tried to overcorrect these behaviors and sometimes took away what they were interested in.

It is important to be educated towards the symptoms of developmental disorders like ASD.

Being nice and patient, and paying attention to their wants and needs could go a long way to help them have a quality life.

It is also significant to point out that whether the person was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome before the diagnosis was classified under ASD, these people still face challenges and the condition should be taken seriously.

A Labeling Problem

Because Asperger is called a “milder” and “high-functioning” form of autism, there is an incorrect assumption these children and adults lead more comfortable lives than those with other developmental disorders. This is not always the case. Children and adults with Asperger’s are fraught with many challenges. Much of the trouble comes in mutual misperceptions of social situations and speech. People with Asperger’s often do not “get” jokes, puns, or sarcasm. They may not read body language correctly. They may appear emotionless or unreactive.

As a result, people with Asperger’s may induce a kind-of self-isolation because they “don’t fit in”; similarly, peers may find them awkward or even rude. Those who experience this type of social isolation are especially vulnerable to anxiety and depression. They may be confused or frustrated, which leads to anger and volatility.

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Key Facts About Autism and Asperger’s

As of 2013, Asperger’s is no longer included in the DSM-V diagnostic manual.

It was removed and gathered under the umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The following are some of the key facts about Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome:

  • It is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects the way information is processed in the brain.
  • It causes developmental delays and is a lifelong condition.
  • Prevalence of autism was reported to be 1 in 59 by CDC in 2018.
  • Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed.
  • Girls and women are under-diagnosed.
  • Individuals on the spectrum have average to high intelligence.
  • Individuals on the spectrum are detailed oriented.
  • They have specific topics of interests, about which they have a deep knowledge.
  • Individuals on the spectrum have sensory sensitivity to certain sounds, smells, textures, etc.
  • Social anxiety or anxiety in general is really common.
  • Routines are really important, and if disrupted, individuals may be disturbed.
  • People on the spectrum have difficulty understanding verbal and non-verbal language.
  • Individuals with ASD struggle with understanding others’ feelings and thoughts.

The Takeaway

As we are currently without any bio- or psychological markers to draw a line separating (or connecting) Asperger’s and autism, the definitions will inevitably vary depending on who, when, and where. While the conclusion is that there is no definite conclusion (at least for now), the important takeaway here is that Asperger’s, regardless of being an autism spectrum disorder or not, should be taken and treated just as seriously.

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This post does not provide medical advice. See Additional Information.

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