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Exploring the Difference Between Autism and Asperger's

written by: Samantha Bangayan • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 2/21/2011

It can be difficult to tell the difference between autism and Asperger’s syndrome because they have many similarities. Explore the subtle differences that distinguish these two disorders, so you can more easily tell them apart.

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    Defining Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

    Autism and Asperger’s syndrome are classified as autism spectrum disorders, otherwise known as pervasive developmental disorders. They share similar symptoms, such as social awkwardness, specific language impairments and restricted behaviors. The majority of researchers agree that the most notable difference between the two disorders is that children with Asperger’s don’t have initial delays in language and cognitive development. People diagnosed with Asperger’s also show fewer total symptoms of autism as measured by the Autism Behavior Checklist, but clinicians still have difficulty differentiating the two disabilities during a diagnosis.

    The difference between autism and Asperger’s syndrome lies in the details. Based on a review of research studies, the following is a summary of what researchers know about how to tell the two conditions apart. Note that scientists come to these conclusions by calculating averages, so not all symptoms will be applicable in each case.

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    The Differences Between Autism and Asperger's: Development

    There are some clues that differentiate autism and Asperger’s syndrome early on in the child’s development.

    • More boys have Asperger’s. The ratio of children diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome is nine males to one female. In children with autism, the ratio is four males to one female.
    • Children with autism are diagnosed much earlier. The average age of diagnosis for autism is 5 years, but for Asperger’s it’s 11 years of age.
    • Older mothers who become pregnant when they’re over 30 years old are more likely to give birth to an infant with Asperger's. There’s no such trend for mothers of children with autism.
    • Infants with autism are more likely to be irritable babies.
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    Social, Behavioral and Communicative Differences

    Though individuals with autism or Asperger’s syndrome struggle with being and communicating in social situations, there are differences in the challenges that autistic people and aspies face:

    • Flexibility in thinking and behavior is apparent in both disorders, but people with Asperger’s have an especially difficult time being flexible when it comes to relationships. Although they are more likely to be social, they struggle with managing their emotions and responding appropriately if there are changes or uncertainties during any opportunity for social interaction.
    • People with Asperger’s undoubtedly have better language ability. In general, they understand language better, talk more and speak with a larger vocabulary. People with autism are more likely to display speech impairments and abnormalities.
    • In normal daily behavior, individuals with Asperger’s show curiosity for and are involved in more activities. People with autism are more likely to be excessively interested in inanimate objects.
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    Cognitive Differences

    Clinicians often use intelligence tests to measure the difference between autism and Asperger’s syndrome because they have very different cognitive profiles. In comparison with people who are diagnosed with autism, individuals with Asperger’s are less likely to be enrolled in special education classes because they have a:

    • Higher overall IQ.
    • Higher total verbal score expressed by higher scores in the vocabulary and comprehension sections.
    • Higher score on adaptability skills.
    • Higher score on cognitive functioning.
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    References