The debate of Asperger’s vs. autism has raged on for decades. Both conditions have very similar symptoms and diagnoses and often get mistaken for one another. When you are looking for support for a child on the autism spectrum, learn more about the right autism spectrum disorder treatment.
Both terms emerged in the 1940s. A doctor named Leo Kanner observed children that engaged in repetitive behavior, had trouble with social cues, and had underdeveloped speech. Around the same time, Hans Asperger observed children with similar but milder symptoms that did not result in lost speech development. He coined his new findings as “Asperger’s syndrome.”
Autism and Asperger’s didn’t become formal diagnoses for many years, but Kanner’s and Asperger’s research helped shape our modern understanding of autism.
Asperger’s vs. Autism: What’s the Difference?
It’s essential to define each term before delving into the differences.
The first thing we need to know is: what is autism spectrum disorder? Autism wasn’t added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until nearly 40 years after Kanner’s initial research.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines autism as “autism is the most severe developmental disability. Autism appears within the first three years of life and involves impairments in social interaction – such as being aware of other people’s feelings – and verbal and nonverbal communication.”
Some common symptoms include:
- A lack of eye contact
- Intense dislike of environmental or routine changes
- Obsessive and repetitive behavior
- Poor social skills
- Inability to recognize or display emotion
- Limited verbal communication
However, autism varies wildly from person to person. Some will display many symptoms, and others almost none. The best way to find out if someone is autistic is to get a professional diagnosis.
Defining the Autism Spectrum
Asperger’s syndrome wasn’t added to the DSM until 1994. The DSM-4’s definition was “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 main thing which distinguishes Asperger’s from autism is that it has less severe symptoms and no speech delays. Those with Asperger’s are very proficient in a language but might display unusual speech patterns such as unusually high or low pitches or a lack of inflection. They also might not understand abstract concepts such as irony or humor.
Children with autism often withdraw from social interactions, but those with Asperger’s often want to join, but don’t know how. When looking at Asperger’s vs. autism, something you may notice is that children on the autism spectrum might not fully understand social contexts or cues.
Another significant difference is that Asperger’s patients don’t have a “clinically significant” cognitive delay, while some autism patients do. Most of Asperger’s patients have average or above-average intelligence.
The End of Asperger’s?
In 2013, Asperger’s was removed from the DSM-5 and was folded into the autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Both Asperger’s and autism are now categorized under the umbrella term of autism spectrum disorder. Asperger’s and autism no longer have different diagnoses, though Asperger’s symptoms generally correlate with higher functioning autism.
While Asperger’s no longer “exists” in the DSM-5, many people still commonly use the term and may describe themselves as having it due to a past diagnosis.
The Bottom Line
In the Asperger’s vs. autism debate, only one thing remains clear: either diagnosis is a cause for concern. If you think your child has autism or Asperger’s, you should speak to a licensed medical professional for the right parental resources for autism spectrum disorder. Early intervention is the best way to deal with autism. For convenient and effective help, your best option might be telehealth treatment for autism. Learn more about finding the right support for autism spectrum disorder today.