How is Asperger’s different from autism?

Autism and  Asperger Disorder are getting more attention every passing day, but despite their recognition, not many people know exactly what they are, what their signs are and more importantly, how do they difference from each other. 

The difference between Autism and The Asperger Disorder remains unknown to many people, despite the growing awareness of such disorders.

In this guide, we are going to break down what are those disorders and what differentiates them. 

A brief history of these disorders

Eugen Bleuler was the first person to use the term autism to describe extreme cases of schizophrenia during 1911.

Through the 1920s – 1950s the concept of autism became recognized among the psychologists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists.

People with autism were considered to have symptoms like hallucinations and childish behaviours, stating that people with autism had enriched symbolic life that was not accessible to the observer. 

However, psychologist began to question of autism during the 1960s, achieving a new understanding of autism where the individual didn’t have hallucinations or fantasies, but the complete absence of unconscious symbolic life.

This new concept of autism changed the understanding of autism for the exact opposite. 

Changes in the evaluation methods made autism associated with developmental disorders like profound retard. 

However, the Asperger Disorder (also known as The Asperger Syndrome) was described in the 1940s by the psychiatrist Hans Asperger.

He observed kids with autism-like behaviours that still show normal intelligence and language development.

Nevertheless, many professionals saw Asperger Disorder as a type of high-functioning autism and still do nowadays. 

Nonetheless, the Asperger Disorder was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association in 1994 as a separated disorder.

But in 2013, with the issuance of DSM-5, the Autistic Disorder and the Asperger’s Disorder joined under the diagnosis umbrella of autism spectrum disorder.

What is Autism?

Autism is a behavioural disorder which manifests signs around the social skills, like communication, relationships and self-regulation according to the Autism Society.

Those symptoms usually appear during childhood and can affect the life quality of the individual if not support is provided to meet their needs.

Being a repertoire of behaviours, the way this disorder affects each person is different.

There is no known cause of autism, but among the most accepted explanations are genetics, congenital, cognitive and neuronal disturbances as the source of this disorder.

However, the diagnosis is made by studying the behavior of the individual, not the cause nor the mechanism. 

We can know if someone has autism by watching certain patterns on their behavior, like persistent deficit in communication skills or repetitive patterns of behavior. 

There are also tools that help in the diagnosis of autism, such as The Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised or The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule.

This disorder is usually diagnosed in the first years of life (approximately starting at 14 months in some cases), while the first signs of autism can appear even at just six-month-old. 

Some of the symptoms are: 

  • Repetitive language or no language at all. 
  • Difficulties at understanding nonverbal communication.
  • Trouble at making friends.
  • Trouble maintaining a typical conversation. 
  • Echolalia (repeating sounds, words or phrases)  
  • Repetitive movements.
  • Difficulties with changes in routines. 
  • Extreme to significantly lower sensitivity to sensory stimulus. 

There are certainly more symptoms, but those are the most common one in people with autism.

There are certain co-morbid medical conditions in people with autism like epilepsy, allergies, asthma, etc. 

The prevalence of autism has risen to 1 for every 68, probably due to the improvements in the diagnostic methods of the present. 

What is Asperger Disorder?

On the other hand, we have the Asperger Disorder.

This disorder also has signs regarding social skills and behavior which begin in the childhood of the individual.

Being part of the autism spectrum, this disorder cannot be diagnosed with just one of the signs, but with a pattern of clear symptoms. 

The cause of Asperger also remains unknown, with some hypothesis being held, just like autism. 

When diagnosing Asperger Disorder, the professionals can use the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised in conjunction with other kinds of tests, such as cognition, psychomotor function, verbal and nonverbal communication tests, etc. 

Some of the symptoms are: 

  • Inability to infer the thoughts, feelings, or emotions of others.
  • Avoids eye contact or gazes too intensely. 
  • Absence of social awareness. 
  • Trouble at making friends.
  • Trouble understanding nonverbal communication.
  • Repetitive movements.
  • Motor problems.
  • Trouble maintaining a typical conversation. 

As you can see, there are a lot of similarities between Autism and Asperger Disorder.

Even the way they are diagnosed is similar. For example, to diagnose autism there is a autism test.

For the diagnosis of Asperger, a Asperger test is done.

What’s the difference between autism and Asperger’s? 

Since 2013 Asperger Disorder and autism has been in the same spectrum (the autism spectrum disorder) due to the changes made in the DSM-5.

Certainly, they are very similar to each other, but they do have some things that completely differentiate them. 

One of the most important differences between the two of them is that Asperger shows neither communicational nor intelligence issues in the same way autism does.

An individual with Asperger can engage in a conversation (with certain difficulties), while an individual with autism probably won’t try to engage in one.  

Some of the problems an individual with Asperger has while talking are verbosity (excessive talking), miscomprehension, abrupt transitions and abnormalities with the voice tone. 

Likewise, someone with Asperger Syndrome will be more willing to make social interactions (without knowing exactly how to do it), while someone with autism usually won’t have interest in doing so. 

Another thing that differentiates them is the intellectual disabilities.

People with autism may have intellectual disabilities, while people with Asperger usually possess average intelligence and even above-average intelligence in some cases.

In fact, one of the criteria for making this diagnosis is the person must have a normal intelligence and language development. 

The Asperger Disorder seems to have only the social area affected while maintaining most of their functionality untouched.

However, many people with this disorder have motor delays, which make them appear to be clumsy or awkward to the observer. 

In both cases early diagnosis and treatment can lead to a good prognosis, making those individuals have a better adaptation on their environment.


Both autism and Asperger are getting more awareness in the present, but people still don’t know many things about these two disorders. 

The term autism was coined by Eugen Bleuler in 1911 to describe severe cases of schizophrenia.

However, in the 1940s, Hans Asperger noticed that there were some kids with signs of autism whose intelligence and language development was average. 

In the 1960s psychologists were questioning the concept of autism, changing it and giving us the concept that we have in the present. 

Autism and Asperger are known as behavioural disorders that affect communication, social and motor skills, and in the case of autism, it also affects intelligence.

Any of these disorders have a clear cause, but there is some hypothesis stating that factors like genetics, environment, cognitive and congenital play a part in the emergence of these disorders. 

Both of them are very similar, with the most notable difference being the use and development of language, the willingness to participate in social situations and the intelligence observed. 

So, while it is true that both of them can be classified in the same spectrum, they do have a big differentiator among them and it is the functionality around social situations.

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Does autism improve with age?

It may seem so, but actually those cases where a child “loses” its diagnosis is due a replacement in said diagnosis.

As new information and new methods of examination comes, there are also improvements in the diagnostic system that allows the professional to know with more precision what the cases they studied were. 

Does autism counts as a disability? 

Yes. Due to the characteristics of this disorder it counts as a disability.

Is autism curable? 

There is no cure known yet.

Is autism on the rise? 

Yes. The prevalence of autism has risen to 1 for every 68, probably due to the improvements in the diagnostic methods of the present that allows professionals detect with more precision if this disorder is in the individual and not just the increase of cases per se; remember, it is about the number of cases that are being diagnosed, not the actual number of cases. 

Is Asperger’s still a form a diagnosis?

According to the DSM-5, no.

But many people and professionals still use this term to describe a specific behavior on some individuals.

In fact, some clinicians use the international coding system, which includes the Asperger Syndrome.

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