Autism & Asperger's: What's The Difference?
How Is Asperger’s Different From Autism?
When you think of autism, you might picture a child who is nonverbal and has a lower IQ. But this isn’t necessarily the case for kids with Asperger’s syndrome.
There’s no specific Asperger’s test to tell the difference between Asperger’s and autism, but many experts agree that the two disorders each prompt distinct behaviors.
From the way they communicate to the way they learn, people with Asperger’s and autism face unique challenges but also have exceptional gifts.
Asperger’s: Does It Even Exist Anymore?
You should know that Asperger’s isn’t officially recognized as its “own” syndrome anymore.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) no longer considers Asperger’s syndrome a separate disorder. Since 2013, doctors have been instructed to diagnose Asperger’s and autism both as “autism spectrum disorders.” (1)
Despite this newer classification, many experts believe that children and adults with Asperger’s have clear-cut symptoms that set them apart from those with autism. Indeed, the “lumping” of autism spectrum disorders has caused quite a bit of debate in the medical community.
Difference No. 1: There’s Rarely a Language Delay
One big difference between autism and Asperger’s is that kids with autism tend to start talking later. Those with Asperger’s usually don’t experience a language delay. (1)
While children with autism often seem aloof, those with Asperger’s usually want to interact with others.
Though they welcome conversation, kids with Asperger’s do find it difficult to communicate and may come off as socially awkward.
Difficulty maintaining eye contact and reading facial expressions, and speaking without emotion are signature traits of Asperger’s. Children and adults with Asperger’s also find it difficult to recognize and express their own feelings. (2,1)
Difference No. 2: IQ May Be Higher Than Normal
While kids with autism typically have a below average IQ, those with Asperger’s may have higher-than-normal intelligence.
Some children with Asperger’s have a very advanced vocabulary and may become experts in memorizing facts about a specific subject. For instance, they may remember and recite specific sports statistics or facts about dinosaurs.
Some kids with Asperger’s are described as “gifted” and having intellectual talents. They may perform exceptionally well academically, but this isn’t always the case, as many also have behavioral problems that can hold them back. (3,4)
Difference No. 3: Time of Diagnosis
The average age of diagnosis for a child with autism is around age 4. (5)
Because kids with Asperger’s typically don’t exhibit language delays or have lower IQs, they’re often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed until much later, sometimes in the teen or adult years.
Many parents may not realize that their son or daughter has Asperger’s until he or she starts interacting with peers or participating in social activities.
Asperger’s is often misdiagnosed as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although these conditions are sometimes both present, Asperger’s is different from ADHD in that it’s a problem with socializing, rather than a problem with focusing attention. (2,3)
Difference No. 4: Their Brains Are Wired and Shaped Differently
Some research has suggested that children with Asperger’s syndrome have different brain patterns than those with autism.
In one study, scientists used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the amount of signaling that occurs between brain areas of children with Asperger’s and those with autism.
Kids with Asperger’s syndrome displayed different patterns of brain activity, which suggests differences in the way their brains are connected. Specifically, children with Asperger’s may have stronger connections in the left hemisphere of the brain compared with autistic children. (6)
Other researchers have found that a region of the brain that controls language has more folds in children with autism than in kids with Asperger’s. (7)
While this research offers intriguing clues about how the brains of people with autism and Asperger’s may be different, more studies need to be done. Investigators continue to explore the brains of children to reveal more information.
Difference No. 5: Less Severe Symptoms in Asperger’s
Some experts describe children and adults with Asperger’s as having “high-functioning autism.” While this exact terminology is often debated, it’s true that those with Asperger’s generally experience less severe symptoms than those with autism. (1)
Because of this, people with Asperger’s are often able to live independently and may be able to attend mainstream schools where they can excel academically. Conversely, many kids with autism will need specialized education and support, although this isn’t always the case. (8)
Related:A 'Working Guy' With Autism
How Asperger’s and Autism Are Similar
While there are some differences between Asperger’s and autism, the disorders share a lot of the same symptoms. Children with both conditions may have:
- Difficulty maintaining relationships
- Problems expressing feelings or emotions
- Trouble maintaining eye contact
- Sensitivities to certain foods or sounds
- Issues with motor skills
- A desire to follow strict schedules
- An obsession with specific subjects
Both kids with autism and those with Asperger’s may be perceived by others as “awkward” in social situations. Additionally, engaging in hand-flapping (rapidly waving hands in the air) is common in those with both disorders. (2)
The Bottom Line: Both Disorders Require Intervention
Sometimes, there’s not an obvious difference between a child with Asperger’s and one with autism. Signs and symptoms can overlap, and doctors may not make a distinction between the two disorders.
Because the newer diagnostic criteria lumps the conditions together, you may be told that your child has an “autism spectrum disorder,” instead of “autism” or “Asperger’s.”
Also, every child with an autism spectrum disorder is different. He or she may not have the same symptoms as another child.
Your doctor can help you determine specific traits that may further categorize your child. But, for the most part, kids with Asperger’s syndrome and autism face similar challenges and benefit from similar treatment approaches.
The takeaway for parents is to tell your doctor if you notice the signs of Asperger’s or autism. Both disorders benefit from early intervention. The sooner you can spot and treat an autism spectrum disorder, the better your chances for a good outcome.
Video: Autism & Pediatric Diseases : Symptoms of Asperger's Autism
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