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Are Asperger's and Autism the Same Disorder?

By Bethney Foster
Updated May 17, 2024
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Asperger’s and autism, especially high-functioning autism, are similar conditions. Whether they are the same disorder or different disorders is a subject of debate. Both are disorders on the autism spectrum, also known as pervasive development disorders, which is a range of conditions that affect the way in which the afflicted individual interacts socially and communicates with others. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders continues to classify Asperger’s and autism as two different disorders as of 2011, with Asperger’s syndrome being described as different than autism because there is no delay in language or cognitive development with Asperger’s.

Those with Asperger’s may read, do math, and show other learning skills at the same age, or even at a younger age, than peers. Those with autism are often significantly delayed in cognitive development. With this description, it often means that two adults may have nearly identical symptoms, but different diagnoses. The adult who experienced early developmental delays may be diagnosed with autism, while the adult who did not have these delays may be diagnosed with Asperger’s. There are other ways in which Asperger’s and autism are often said to differ.

Often cited as a difference between Asperger’s and autism is the age of diagnosis. Asperger’s syndrome is often diagnosed at a later age than autism, with most diagnoses of Asperger’s being made in children ages 5 to 9. Children with autism may be diagnosed as early as age 2, but are most often diagnosed at 3 to 4 years of age.

Those with high-functioning autism have an IQ of 70 or higher, which is considered to be in the normal range. In these cases, Asperger’s and autism may be difficult to differentiate. The one difference is that those with high-functioning autism had cognitive delays as young children but were within normal IQ ranges by adolescence. Those with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s are often prescribed the same treatment programs. Symptoms shared may include difficulty with hygiene, knowing how to dress themselves appropriately, and problems with anger management and anxiety.

How those with the two conditions interact may also be a difference between Asperger’s and autism. Those with Asperger’s often exhibit signs that they want to be socially involved. They tend, however, to be eccentric and insensitive to social norms in their interactions with others. Those with autism tend to be withdrawn, self-isolating, and to not seek social inclusion.

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Discussion Comments

By EdRick — On Mar 15, 2012

@jholcomb - We are dealing with something similar with a boy in my son's class (they're ten). I knew he had Asperger's, but reading this article actually made me understand better how that's different from autism. Wanting to be included but going about it wrong - that describes this boy perfectly.

My son and I have talked a lot about how to be inclusive with and friendly toward this boy but to still kindly set limits when necessary. (Not every time is a good time to call/come over/etc., for instance.) I've reached out to his parents as well for suggestions about how to handle it.

I'm really proud of my son because there is an urge in children to just reject whoever is different, and he's fighting it hard in his efforts to be friends with this boy.

By jholcomb — On Mar 14, 2012

I would love to see more awareness of Aspergers vs autism and more sympathy toward people with both these conditions. When I was a kid, I lived next door to a boy who was "odd." He would come over at strange times and often wanted to play with kids who were younger than he was. My mother used to run him off because she found him a little creepy.

Looking back, I think he may have been "an Aspie." He probably wanted to play with younger children because they are less judgmental and because his age mates had rejected him. He came over at strange times because he didn't really understand social norms. In retrospect, I wish that we had shown him more compassion. I don't think he was dangerous - unless being mistreated made him that way.

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