Within the Autism Spectrum Disorders there are cases with diverse and characteristic symptoms.
Autism is a highly known disorder today, with the majority of the population knowing broadly some of its main characteristics. The same is the case with Asperger syndrome. Both disorders are currently part of the so-called autism spectrum disorder or ASD, having been integrated into a single disorder in DSM 5 due to the presence of very similar symptoms.
However, if this had not occurred until now, it is because although similar and closely related, there are elements that distinguish them. It is about these characteristics that we are going to talk in this article: the main differences between Asperger’s syndrome and Autism.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by the presence of social, language and behavior disorders. It is a problem that is usually detected in very early stages of development, and some of the main symptoms can usually be seen before three years of age.
In this sense, the presence of communication deficits stands out, such as the absence or difficulty in using or understanding non-verbal language, difficulties in relating or even in some cases an apparent lack of interest in it. They find it difficult to understand that others have minds independent of their own, and sometimes they can have instrumental attitudes. They tend to reject physical contact (although in some cases they do accept or seek that of significant others). They often give the impression of being locked inside, with little exploratory behavior with the environment.
It is frequent that it is accompanied by a certain degree of intellectual disability, as well as a delay in the acquisition and development of language (and in some cases it may not be fully acquired). They have great difficulty with the social and pragmatic use of language, and in some cases they can even reach total silence, or the emission of few sounds.
At the behavioral level, the presence of repetitive and routine interests and activities stands out, with which they tend to have great fixation. They tend to be rigid, finding it difficult to adapt to new developments and requiring routines to feel safe. Finally, they may have hypo or hypersensitivity to stimulation (frequently to noises and lights) and it is common for them to present stereotyped movements that serve as self-stimulation.
With regard to Asperger’s syndrome, it is also a neurodevelopmental disorder, but it usually takes much longer to be observed, generally when the level of social demand begins to increase and closer links are established. It shares with autism the existence of interpersonal and communication difficulties, as well as the existence of restricted interests and repetitive behavior patterns (also requiring routines and presenting difficulties in getting used to changes).
In language they also have difficulties, although there is no delay and the problem is limited to the pragmatic use of it and the understanding of figurative language. They are usually very literal. It is difficult for them to capture information regarding the emotions of others, and it is often difficult for them to express their own, both at the level of verbal and non-verbal language. Most have normative cognitive ability and generally do not suffer from intellectual disabilities.
Despite this, there is usually a certain motor delay. Typical behavior is generally adaptive and they are often curious and interested in the outside environment.
Considering the generic descriptions of both disorders, we can see that although they share a large number of characteristics, they present traits that have led to different disorders being considered until a few years ago. The main differences are as follows.
1. Intellectual capacity
One of the perhaps most remarkable differences between Asperger’s and autism is found in the tendency to have certain levels of intellectual capacity. While in Asperger’s an intellectual capacity is usually found in the population average, autism usually presents with some degree of intellectual disability (although in some cases they have a cognitive capacity located in the population average).
2. Adaptive behavior and autonomy
Although there are elements that pose difficulties for both, as a general rule the Asperger can act autonomously without major problems (beyond possible social problems). In the case of typical autism, these difficulties are much greater and those who suffer from it may require continued support
3. Differences in language
Despite the fact that in both cases there is some kind of difficulty in language, there are great differences with regard to this ability.
In the case of Asperger syndrome, those who suffer from it tend to have problems with figurative language, the pragmatic use of it or the understanding of aspects related to emotions (both orally and gesturally). However, in general, they tend to have a rich vocabulary and speech appropriate to their maturational level, sometimes even excessively cultured, and they can usually express themselves correctly.
The person with autism, however, tends to present language delayed in relation to their maturational level, having severe difficulties in expressing their thoughts.
4. Contact with others
Both subjects with autism and subjects with Asperger’s are characterized by having social difficulties. However, in the case of Asperger’s they tend to have an interest in establishing social ties, while subjects with autism tend to seek isolation more and avoid contact more.
Another aspect that usually differentiates both disorders is the presence of movement disorders. In autism, for example, it is common for stereotyped movements to occur, which is not the case in Asperger’s. However, in the latter case there is usually some delay in motor development, which is not usually described in typical autism.
Although in both cases there are restricted and repetitive interests, even obsessive, in autism they are usually based on a specific stimulus while in asperger’s they are usually broader or more elaborate themes.
7. Age of detection and diagnosis
Although this aspect may not seem to be typical of the disorder, it does give an idea that the symptoms are more or less marked and evident in one case or another.
Typical autism or Kanner type autism is generally diagnosed before the third year of life of the subject, while Asperger’s syndrome is usually diagnosed much later, usually around the age of seven or even as late as adolescence.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.
- American Psychiatric Association (2002). DSM-IV-TR. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Spanish edition. Barcelona: Masson. (Original in English from 2000).
- Thief, A. (2012). Child clinical psychology. CEDE Preparation Manual PIR, 03. CEDE: Madrid.