Asperger's Vs Autism - Hidden Talents ABA

Asperger’s vs. Autism: Understanding the Spectrum

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January 13, 2022 Asperger’s vs. Autism: Understanding the Spectrum

Up until 2013, Asperger's syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) were considered different conditions. For years, these conditions were diagnosed separately, but they now fall under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder.

Both conditions have relatively similar symptoms. People suffering from either of the two exhibit similar communication and behavioral patterns, which makes the distinction between the two diagnoses fuzzy. The American Psychiatric Association therefore has since made a change to the manual practitioners use to diagnose mental health conditions. In the new edition, Asperger's syndrome is incorporated into the diagnosis of ASD.

This article explores the differences between the two conditions. We'll also look at the criteria used for each diagnosis. But before we get to that, let's check out each condition separately.

Autism Disorder

Autism disorder is a complex, lifelong developmental condition. It impacts how you perceive and socialize with others. This leads to social interaction, communication, self-regulation, and relationship problems.

Now that you have a basic understanding of what autism is, let’s have a look at Asperger’s.

Asperger's Syndrome

When Asperger's syndrome was added to the DSM-4, it was described as having the same characteristics of autism, but with one key exception: People diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome didn't have delays in language and communication, as was seen with autistic patients.

As such, many medical professionals believed that Asperger's was a form of “high-functioning” autism. Typically, this meant that a person's development and language skills were considered “normal” according to neurotypical standards.

But as mentioned, the publication of DSM-5 in 2013 saw Asperger's syndrome folded into Autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

So, what's the difference between the two?

The Differences Between Autism and Asperger's

Both conditions are now listed under the umbrella of ASD. However, Asperger's has milder symptoms. Let's see how they compare.

Speech and Language

The major difference between autism spectrum disorder and Asperger's is that the latter has milder symptoms and a general absence of language delays. In most cases, children that were diagnosed with Asperger's have good language skills. However, they may find it challenging to fit in with their peers.

On the other hand, children with autism typically exhibit difficulty in speech and communication. In most cases, they have difficulty understanding what someone is saying to them. And in some cases, they might also have trouble picking up non-verbal cues like facial expressions and hand gestures.

Autistic children also frequently exhibit repetitive language. They might also have narrow topics of interest. For example, they may only be interested in cars and thus, only talk about cars.

Cognitive Functioning

Unlike in autism, children diagnosed with Asperger's cannot have a clinically significant cognitive delay. They generally have average or above-average intelligence. Autistic children, on the other hand, may have significant cognitive delays.

Age of Onset

On average, autistic children are diagnosed at four. However, individuals classified under Asperger's may not show any symptoms until they reach teenage or adulthood.

This is mainly because children with Asperger's don't have lower IQs. They also don't exhibit any language delays. As such, you may not realize that your child has a developmental delay until they start engaging in more social interactions.

And how are these two conditions diagnosed? Read on to find out.

Similarities between Autism and Asperger's

While there are some differences between autism and Asperger's syndrome, they also share several similarities. Here are some commonalities between the two:

  1. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Both autism and Asperger's syndrome fall under the umbrella term of ASD. This means that they share core features related to social communication and interaction as well as restricted and repetitive behaviors.
  2. Sensory Sensitivities: Individuals with both autism and Asperger's syndrome often experience sensory sensitivities. This can include hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to certain stimuli such as lights, sounds, textures, tastes, or smells.
  3. Social Challenges: Both autism and Asperger's involve difficulties with social interactions. Individuals with both conditions may struggle with understanding social cues, making eye contact, interpreting expressions, and engaging in reciprocal conversations.
  4. Restricted and Repetitive Behaviors: Both autism and Asperger's are characterized by repetitive and restricted behaviors and interests. These can manifest as repetitive body movements (such as hand flapping or rocking), adherence to rigid routines, intense focus on specific topics or objects, and resistance to change.
  5. Communication Differences: While the severity may vary, individuals with both autism and Asperger's can have challenges with verbal and nonverbal communication. This can include difficulties with speech development, pragmatic language (using language appropriately in social contexts), understanding sarcasm or figurative language, and maintaining back-and-forth conversations.
  6. Diagnosis Process: In terms of diagnostic criteria, both autism and Asperger's are assessed using similar evaluation tools and assessments. Professionals use standardized measures to assess an individual's social communication skills, behavior patterns, and developmental history to determine if they meet the criteria for ASD.

It is important to remember that every individual with autism or Asperger's is unique, and their experiences may differ. While these similarities exist, it's crucial to approach each person with an individualized understanding and support them based on their specific needs.

Criteria for Each Diagnosis

Asperger's Syndrome

There are currently no specific tests that can diagnose Asperger's. However, Asperger's was commonly diagnosed in childhood. This is because the possibility of an individual fully reaching adulthood without an Asperger's diagnosis was somewhat limited but not impossible.

Here is a summary of the diagnosis criteria for Asperger's in children from the previous version of DSM.

  •         Severe impairment in social interactions and communication skills
  •         Repetitive behaviors or movements
  •         Difficulty with verbal or nonverbal communication
  •         Lack of interest with others or taking part in activities
  •         Few to no long-term relationships with peers
  •         Immense interest in specific aspects of objects
  •         Strict adherence to ritual behaviors or routine
  •         Difficulty in maintaining jobs, relationships, or other aspects of daily life
  •         Showing little to no response to emotional or social experiences


Like with Asperger's, there are currently no standard diagnostic criteria for an autism diagnosis in adults. But those are in development. In the meantime, medical professionals diagnose adults with autism through a series of in-person interactions and observations. They also consider any other symptoms that the individual is experiencing.

If you think you have ASD, you should consult your family doctor. They will perform an evaluation to ensure there isn't any underlying medical condition affecting your behavior. They might then refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for a more in-depth assessment.

The medical professional may want to talk to you about any issues you have regarding emotions, communication, range of interests, behavioral patterns, and more. You'll also have to answer questions about your childhood. And in some cases, they might ask to speak to your parents or any other older family member to get a perspective about your lifelong behavior changes.

Your doctor might determine that you didn't display symptoms of autism as a child but instead began experiencing them as a teen or adult. In this case, they might evaluate you for other possible effective or mental health disorders.

Here is a summary of the diagnosis criteria for autism.

  •         Difficulty with everyday conversations
  •         Having difficulty understanding or responding to social cues
  •         Sharing interests and emotions less often than peers
  •         Having delayed language or speech skills
  •         Speaking in atypical ways, for example, in a singsong voice
  •         Having difficulty understanding other people's emotions or facial expressions
  •         Doing repetitive actions such as rocking and flapping
  •         Experiencing intellectual delays
  •         Becoming angry or overwhelmed with new situations
  •         Having trouble understanding or developing relationships
  •         Sensitivity to certain stimulants like bright lights or loud noises
  •         Becoming intensely interested in certain topics
  •         Having a significant need for a predictable order and structure

Treatment for Asperger's and Autism

Treatment for Asperger's syndrome and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) typically involves a combination of therapies and interventions aimed at improving communication skills, social interaction, and reducing repetitive behaviors. One commonly used approach is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which focuses on teaching individuals new skills and reducing unwanted behaviors through positive reinforcement. Speech and language therapy can help improve communication abilities, while occupational therapy can address sensory sensitivities and motor skills. Additionally, social skills training and social stories can help individuals with ASD navigate social situations more effectively. It's important to note that treatment plans are individualized and may vary depending on the specific needs and challenges of each person with Asperger's or autism. Consulting with healthcare professionals and specialists in the field is crucial in developing an effective and personalized treatment plan.

The Bottom Line

Since 2013, medical professionals have considered Asperger's as part of a broader classification of ASD. That being said, a person with an Asperger's diagnosis might not necessarily identify as having autism spectrum disorder.

Learning the difference between the two is helpful. But taking action is even more important. If you or your child is experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should seek guidance as early as possible. Early intervention, such as ABA therapy, can provide valuable opportunities to learn practical independent life skills.

If you are ready to work with the best Applied Behavior Analysis therapy provider in Texas or Georgia, give us a call at (404) 487-6005. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.