You’ve probably heard of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Asperger’s syndrome mentioned in the same breath.
The BIG and sometimes confusing question is this:
Is autism and Asperger the same? Or are they different?
Behind the debate
A lot of reasons factor in why people consider Asperger’s syndrome and autism to be the same. There was a time when everyone thought of Asperger’s as something entirely different from ASD. Over time and through a lot of research, it is now revealed that Asperger’s fall under ASD considering its signs and symptoms.
So how exactly is Asperger’s different than autism?
In 1940, Hans Asperger, a Viennese pediatrician, observed that boys with normal intelligence and whose language development were considered normal exhibited autism-like behaviors: the boys were having difficulty with social interaction and their communication skills need help.
But compared to autism, Asperger’s syndrome seems like a milder form of the spectrum. To put it in Professor Uta Frith’s words, Asperger is “having a dash of autism.”
Asperger’s: A less severe form of autism.
As a lesser form of autism, individuals with Asperger’s syndrome fall under the category of “high functioning autism.” There is no intellectual disability. What there is is some sort of problems in any one or more of these areas:
- Recognizing someone’s emotions
- Having sensory problems
- Communicating with others
- Expressing oneself
- Socializing with others
In short, people with Asperger’s syndrome can still manage with the necessary life skills. They can still read. Speaking is not a problem. They can still write. Very little support is needed – if they need one at all – though they do struggle in some areas.
Because children and people with Asperger’s syndrome tend to have good cognitive and language skills, they look like a typical kid just behaving differently to untrained observers.
Compared to children and people on the spectrum who looks uninterested to interact with others, those with Asperger’s tend to want to interact and socialize with others. They do want to fit in. The only problem? They don’t know how.
In the end, people with Asperger’s seem to lack empathy, are socially awkward and doesn’t seem to grasp conventional social rules.
Speech patterns in children with Asperger’s
Children with Asperger’s don’t suffer from speech delays like those on the spectrum. However, you may observe certain speech patterns which are unusual like having a high-pitched voice, a lack of inflection, not understanding the subtleties of language like humor, sarcasm or irony or the nature of give-and-take in normal conversations.
In fact, people with Asperger’s often exhibit average to above-average intelligence which makes diagnosing them more of a challenge.
On the other hand, children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder are unique in their own way. It’s basically called a spectrum because of the wide range of experiences and behavior that fall under this developmental disability. Symptoms may vary from child to child which makes every case unique.
Social awkwardness and Asperger’s
Children diagnosed with Asperger’s often grow up as adults who are socially awkward.
And for a good reason.
While language delays are not a problem among people or children diagnosed with Asperger’s, communication can be somewhat of a challenge for them.
This is because the signature traits of Asperger’s make it hard for them to properly communicate due to the following:
- Often speak without emotion
- Does not know how to read facial expressions
- Have difficulty expressing or recognizing their own feelings
- Can’t maintain eye contact
In comparison, people on the spectrum will either avoid or make too much eye contact. They can also talk about a subject that interests them non-stop or be aggressive in expressing a certain emotion like anger. In some cases, children with autism will try to mimic the words or phrases that they hear from other people. Or they might repeat something interesting that they’ve watched on TV or heard while watching YouTube videos.
In these two different scenarios, you can see that people on the spectrum are still able to communicate somehow in their own way.
People with Asperger’s, on the other hand, would want to communicate, but just doesn’t know how it’s properly done.
People with Asperger’s usually exhibit higher intelligence
Another notable difference between people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and Asperger’s syndrome is their level of intelligence.
Most of the time, kids with Asperger’s display an above average intelligence than most. Children or people with Asperger’s can be really good at remembering certain information like statistics or unknown facts about certain topics like sports or dinosaurs or history.
They could sound like an expert with the way they know about things. They can also have really advanced vocabulary that can sometimes be unusual for their age. In some cases, people with Asperger’s can be described as “gifted” people with all their talents and knowledge. However, they can be hampered from showcasing their full potential because of not being able to communicate properly.
In the case of children with ASD, Autism Speaks note that about 31 percent of children with ASD have an IQ of less than 70 which means a significantly below average IQ. Twenty-five percent fall in the borderline category with an IQ ranging from 71 to 85. The remaining 44 percent have average to above average IQ of more than 85. But seeing that Asperger’s syndrome fall under the category of ASD, the number might account for those people diagnosed with high-functioning autism.
Autism spectrum disorder is much easier to diagnose than Asperger’s syndrome
Perhaps one of the biggest differences of autism spectrum disorder and Asperger’s is the time it takes to diagnose them.
People with Asperger’s tend to be high-functioning. So most of the time, they seem normal and even look “gifted” to the untrained eye. This is why most people with Asperger’s are not diagnosed until they happen to be 11 years old on average as research suggests.
On the other hand, children on the spectrum can be diagnosed as early as the first 24 months to around 4 years old. This early diagnosis of ASD allow parents to provide the necessary intervention needed to help their children.
With Asperger’s, misdiagnosis often happens since a child can often exhibit symptoms similar to ADHD. More often than not, it’s not until someone’s into their teens or their adult years until they are diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Because of this, intervention happens at a later time for those with high-functioning autism.
Proper diagnosis is still they key
Both autism spectrum disorder and Asperger’s syndrome are developmental disabilities. People with Asperger’s might not need as much support as those in the spectrum on a day-to-day basis. Proper diagnosis is still the key to understanding your child or loved one with autism or Asperger’s. Early diagnosis will also help you get them the support that they need.
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