Asperger's Syndrome


​Asperger’s   syndrome (also known as Asperger’s Disorder) was first described in  the  1940s by Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger, who observed  autism-like  behaviors and difficulties with social and communication  skills in boys  who had normal intelligence and language development.  Many professionals  felt Asperger’s syndrome was simply a milder form of  autism and used  the term “high-functioning autism” to describe these  individuals. Uta  Frith, a professor at the Institute of Cognitive  Neuroscience of  University College London and editor of Autism and  Asperger Syndrome,  describes individuals with Asperger’s as “having a  dash of autism.”

Asperger’s  Disorder was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s  Diagnostic  and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) in 1994  as a  separate disorder from autism. However, there are still many   professionals who consider Asperger’s Disorder a less severe form of   autism. In 2013, the DSM-5 replaced Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s   Disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders with the umbrella   diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.
​What   distinguishes Asperger’s Disorder from classic autism are its less   severe symptoms and the absence of language delays. Children with   Asperger’s Disorder may be only mildly affected, and they frequently   have good language and cognitive skills. To the untrained observer, a   child with Asperger’s Disorder may just seem like a neurotypical child   behaving differently.

Children with autism are frequently viewed  as  aloof and uninterested in others. This is not the case with  Asperger’s  Disorder. Individuals with Asperger’s Disorder usually want  to fit in  and have interaction with others, but often they don’t know  how to do  it. They may be socially awkward, not understand conventional  social  rules or show a lack of empathy. They may have limited eye  contact,  seem unengaged in a conversation and not understand the use of  gestures  or sarcasm.

Their interests in a particular subject may   border on the obsessive. Children with Asperger’s Disorder often like  to  collect categories of things, such as rocks or bottle caps. They may  be  proficient in knowledge categories of information, such as baseball   statistics or Latin names of flowers. They may have good rote memory   skills but struggle with abstract concepts.

One of the major  differences between Asperger’s  Disorder and autism is that, by  definition, there is no speech delay  in Asperger’s. In fact, children  with Asperger’s Disorder frequently  have good language skills; they  simply use language in different ways.  Speech patterns may be unusual,  lack inflection or have a rhythmic  nature, or may be formal, but too  loud or high-pitched. Children with  Asperger’s Disorder may not  understand the subtleties of language, such  as irony and humor, or they  may not understand the give-and-take  nature of a conversation.

Another  distinction between Asperger’s Disorder  and autism concerns cognitive  ability. While some individuals with  autism have intellectual  disabilities, by definition, a person with  Asperger’s Disorder cannot  have a “clinically significant” cognitive  delay, and most possess  average to above-average intelligence.

While motor difficulties  are not a specific criterion for Asperger’s,  children with Asperger’s  Disorder frequently have motor skill delays  and may appear clumsy or  awkward.
​Diagnosis   of Asperger’s Disorder has increased in recent years, although it is   unclear whether it is more prevalent or more professionals are  detecting  it. When Asperger’s and autism were considered separate  disorders under  the DSM-IV, the symptoms for Asperger’s Disorder were  the same as those  listed for autism; however, children with Asperger’s  do not have delays  in the area of communication and language. In fact,  to be diagnosed  with Asperger’s, a child must have normal language  development as well  as normal intelligence. The DSM-IV criteria for  Asperger’s specified  that the individual must have “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 first step to diagnosis is an assessment,   including a developmental history and observation. This should be done   by medical professionals experienced with autism and other PDDs. Early   diagnosis is also important as children with Asperger’s Disorder who  are  diagnosed and treated early in life have an increased chance of  being  successful in school and eventually living independently.

Contact us for information on Asperger’s resources, including support groups and websites.