Conditions

Asperger’s vs. Autism: What’s the Difference?

Autism and Asperger’s are historically and clinically interconnected and many people use these names interchangeably. But both terms have developed over the past decades, leaving many confused about what they should call their condition, or their loved one’s condition, and subsequently, how to go about treatment.  The diagnosis of autism has become autism spectrum disorder […]

therapist william snyder By William Snyder, LPC

Updated on Jan 12, 2024

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Autism and Asperger’s are historically and clinically interconnected and many people use these names interchangeably. But both terms have developed over the past decades, leaving many confused about what they should call their condition, or their loved one’s condition, and subsequently, how to go about treatment. 

The diagnosis of autism has become autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with Asperger’s syndrome no longer a separate diagnosis, now classified under ASD. Both changes happened in the fourth and fifth editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

In this comprehensive guide, we cover everything about autism and Asperger’s, explain the updated diagnosis, and help you understand what you can do if you or your loved one has symptoms related to autism or Asperger’s.

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a neurological and developmental disorder that involves impaired communication, obsessions, and repetitive behaviors.

Some of the latest autism research found that one in 36 American children aged eight had autism.

Characteristics of Autism

Psychiatry professionals characterize autism by three main signs and symptoms which break down into a wide range of individual characteristics. Someone with autism may consistently display the following signs of autism, including communication and interaction issues such as:

People with autism may also live with restrictive and repetitive habits and interests such as:

Autistic children and even adults are generally more sensitive than others. These special characteristics may be challenging but may also come with advantages . For instance, they can keep a detailed memory for a long time, do exceptionally well when learning visually or through audio, or master certain arts way better than neurotypical people.

Causes and Risk Factors of Autism

Scientists are yet to identify the exact cause of autism. However, they believe that a combination of certain genetic factors and environmental risks contribute to the development of autism in a child.

Risk factors for autism include:

However, researchers clarify that not all people exposed to these risk factors experience autism.

Diagnostic Criteria of Autism

Autism diagnosis is now an umbrella term for describing a range of symptoms for anyone on the spectrum.

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), one must have three forms of impairment in communication and interaction skills combined with two to four forms of restrictive and repetitive behaviors.

To be diagnosed with autism:

Furthermore, there are three levels of diagnosis for Autism spectrum disorder:

ASD levels are quite nuanced, so screening with a professional can help to understand the level of support someone with ASD requires day-to-day.

Autism Treatment and Management

While there’s no single treatment for autism discovered thus far, behavioral interventions like therapy help reduce symptoms and harness the strengths of someone with ASD.

Some of the most beneficial types of therapies for autism treatment include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), social skills therapy, educational therapy, behavioral management therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy, medication, nutritional therapy, and play-based therapy.

While there’s no single treatment for autism discovered thus far, behavioral interventions like therapy help reduce symptoms and harness the strengths of someone with ASD.

Each person is different and therefore requires a therapy fitting their needs. Early intervention is most effective and can even help someone lose their ASD diagnosis and function normally, both cognitively and socially.

What Is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s, also known as Asperger’s syndrome (AS), is a set of symptoms on the autism spectrum. It was a standalone condition when it was identified by Hans Asperger, an Austrian Psychiatrist, in 1944. 

Asperger’s was used to describe symptoms of social communication difficulties, alongside average to high IQ and with no language development delays like those in other spectrums of autism. These slight differences are what caused it to be viewed as a separate disorder. 

However, in 1994, the American Psychiatric Association officially classified it under Autism spectrum disorder. Now, it’s no longer called Asperger’s, although some may use the name to describe the symptoms.

Characteristics of a Person With Asperger’s

Signs and symptoms of Asperger syndrome under ASD include: 

Asperger’s symptoms are closely related to those of general ASD, and is the reason for the merging of the two. Like ASD symptoms, AS symptoms are also advantageous in some ways and pose some challenges. 

Causes of Asperger’s

Asperger’s syndrome doesn’t have a defined cause. Unspecified genetic factors and exposure to harmful environmental factors such as toxic chemicals may be connected to the development of Asperger’s. Yet not all children exposed to such factors develop Asperger’s.

What scientists know for sure is that AS isn’t caused by bad parenting or upbringing, a myth that has circulated for many decades.

Diagnostic Criteria of Asperger’s

Asperger’s is no longer diagnosed on its own. In fact, it’s no longer mentioned in most clinical circles since it’s now part of Autism spectrum disorder, mostly falling under Level 1 on the spectrum.

If you have a loved one displaying symptoms of Asperger’s, consider meeting with a psychologist for an assessment and proceeding with treatment targeting their area of challenge.

Asperger Syndrome Treatment and Management

Treatment options for Asperger’s ‌usually depend on the needs of an individual. For instance, someone struggling with motor issues can be taken to occupational therapy, while someone with communication difficulties can go to speech therapy.

The behavioral interventions for autism work for Asperger’s since they’re under the same spectrum.

Autism vs. Asperger’s Similarities and Differences

According to the former DSM-4 diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s before it was classified under ASD, Asperger syndrome was similar to autism in every way, with the exception that people with Asperger’s had average or high IQs and developed language skills the same way people without neurodevelopmental disorders do. Also, people diagnosed with Asperger’s didn’t require as much support as someone with autism.

It’s now important to note that Asperger’s and autism aren’t considered separate conditions anymore, they’re now part of the autism spectrum which ranges from low level autism to high level. Asperger’s symptoms often fall under level one.

Dealing With Autism and Asperger’s Symptoms 

Healthcare professionals now use the Autism spectrum disorder diagnosis criteria to diagnose all people showing ASD symptoms.

Whether you think you’re autistic or have Asperger’s, you need to go for an assessment with a pediatrician or mental health professional to determine your spectrum level. That way, you can go through interventions that target your specific needs and help you live a more meaningful life.

Many people with Asperger’s struggle with identifying themselves as ASD due to the stigma around the term “autism.” 

What matters is knowing that you’re an important human no matter what condition you’re battling, and that you can live a purposeful life with the right treatments.

Get Support for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism and Asperger’s are intertwined conditions, the latter no longer existing as its own diagnosis. Asperger’s symptoms are now treated as part of Autism spectrum disorder.

Although one might go to the doctor showing ‌Asperger’s signs and symptoms, they’ll be diagnosed according to the Autism spectrum disorder level they’re at. 

Understanding the similarities and differences between autism and Asperger’s can help you better seek treatment for yourself or a loved one. Always remember, anyone on the autism spectrum can live a meaningful life with the right therapy, and even lose symptoms along the way.

If you or your loved one is struggling with Asperger’s or autism symptoms, Grow Therapy can help. We’ll connect you with a qualified therapist in your area who accepts your insurance.

FAQs

  • Asperger’s is a set of symptoms under the autism spectrum disorder. It’s on Level 1 of the autism spectrum, characterized by mild autism symptoms, average or high intelligence, and adequate language and speech development.

  • According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the five main types of conditions on the autism spectrum include Asperger's syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, Kanner's syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder.

  • Asperger’s is now part of the autism spectrum. Autistic individuals have difficulties with communication, social skills, and restrictive and repetitive behaviors, but those with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle with concentration, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While autistic people struggle with understanding body language, people with ADHD don’t.

  • Asperger’s is on the milder range of the autism spectrum, so someone with this condition has a normal or high IQ and little to no language development delays. With interventions to deal with various Asperger’s challenges, one can live a purposeful life.

  • Asperger’s is a developmental disability because it impairs communication, social abilities, and motor functioning. However, one can overcome the challenges that come with it through interventions like therapy, which help develop typical communication, social, and motor skills.

  • Untreated Asperger’s can cause consistent social struggles and difficulties navigating many areas of life due to communication skills issues. One may experience constant social isolation, mental health disorders, and difficulties maintaining employment and relationships. Going for autism therapy can help to avoid or diminish these challenges.

About the author
therapist william snyder William Snyder, LPC

William Snyder is a licensed professional counselor who works with adults experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, depressed mood, loss and grief, identity and self-concept difficulties, relationship problems, life-transition difficulties, and traumatic memories.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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