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What is the difference between autism and Asperger syndrome?

People with Asperger syndrome usually have some milder symptoms of autistic disorder. They might have social challenges and unusual behaviors and interests. However, they typically do not have problems with language or intellectual disability.

*Asperger syndrome, or Asperger's, is a term that is no longer used as a formal diagnosis. In current diagnostic criteria, the syndrome is included under the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders.

Dr. Alexander Kolevzon, MD
Adolescent Medicine Specialist

Asperger syndrome is distinguished from autism by the absence of intellectual disability or significant language delay. Approximately half of individuals with autism have intellectual disability and while the other half are intellectually intact, they all have delays in language development. However, the diagnostic boundaries between Asperger syndrome, autism and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified are not always clear and the next iteration of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) will include them in one overarching diagnosis called autism spectrum disorder.

William Stillman
Health Education Specialist

The difference between autism and Asperger syndrome (AS) is that people with AS have no developmental or cognitive delays as found when the individual with autism is not meeting developmental milestones with regard to speech and fine- and gross-motor skills (ambulating, eating, dressing, etc.). Where people with AS struggle is understanding people—social interactions, appropriate use of humor, deciphering slang and double-meanings, and understanding reciprocity in relationships. (Like those with autism, however, people with AS can have very strong areas of special interest for which they hold great passion and expertise.) In some instances the term high-functioning autism or HFA may be used for individuals who present with AS similarities but have a speech delay; HFA is not a universally recognized term, though.

*Asperger syndrome, or Asperger's, is a term that is no longer used as a formal diagnosis. In current diagnostic criteria, the syndrome is included under the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.