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Asperger's versus High Functioning Autism

written by: sharscott • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 1/17/2011

In 'Asperger's vs High Functioning Autism' we take a look at the key differences and similarities between the two disorders.

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    Autism Spectrum Disorder

    Autism has become the buzz word in most discussions relating to childhood mental disorders. Over the last decade, researchers have been learning more about some of the possible genetic and environmental links to autism spectrum disorder. At present, the cause(s) and a cure still elude the medical research community.

    However, as more is learned about autism, a debate is being framed by parents, caregivers, and some autistic individuals themselves. How does one distinguish between people with autism?

    As we now know, autism does not affect any two persons exactly the same.

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    Asperger's vs High Functioning Autism

    Within the autism community, parents, researchers, and others have begun to attach more definitive labels to help those who work with, care for, and have autism understand the differences and nuances of the disorder.

    The biggest debate has centered on Asperger's vs high functioning autism. Both fall within the autism spectrum. Are they the same condition or should they be talked of as two distinct disorders?

    There are enough differences between the two that many within the autism community believe that Asperger's and high functioning autism should not be confused or spoken of as being synonymous.

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    What is Asperger's Syndrome?

    In order to understand the debate, a person must first understand what Asperger's is.

    Asperger's is named after Dr. Hans Asperger, who in 1944, was presented with 4 children who had difficulty with social skills. The pediatrician noted that though the children all possessed normal intelligence, they lacked nonverbal communication skills. Dr. Asperger termed the condition "autistic psychopathy" .

    The following are the most common symptoms that he associated with the condition.

    Symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome:

    • limited interest or strong preoccupation with particular subjects to the exclusion of other activities;
    • insistence on repetitive routines or rituals
    • monotone speech or voice which lacks expression or changes in tone
    • socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior
    • lack of nonverbal skills (i.e. facial gestures)
    • awkward body movements ( may be clumsy)
    • appears to lack empathy
    • very active as children but may experience depression or anxiety as they age
    • lack of eye contact

    However, children deemed Asperger's have no language delays. They may even be advanced in speech and vocabulary for their age. With treatment they can learn to interact appropriately in social situations, read nonverbal cues, and work successfully in the outside world as adults.

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    High Functioning Autism

    Many people incorrectly conclude that Asperger's and high functioning autism are one and the same. Though many symptoms are the same, there are two key differences. First, a look at the symptoms.

    Symptoms of High Functioning Autism:

    • possess a IQ of 80 or above (normal intelligence)
    • like routine or order
    • lack of eye contact
    • monotone speech
    • may be clumsy or have awkward body movements
    • appear to lack empathy
    • limited interests or obsession with a particular subject
    • engage in one-sided conversations on a particular topic
    • lack nonverbal skills
    • repetitive behavior like hand flapping (self-stimulatory)

    Many of the symptoms are identical for Asperger's and high functioning autism. The key differences are that individuals with high functioning autism present self-stimulatory behaviors like hand flapping or twirling objects while these are not present in those with Asperger's.

    Also, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) does not recognize high functioning autism as a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. Asperger's is. The term 'high functioning autism' is an informal term used to differentiate how impacted individuals within the spectrum are by the disorder.

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    Is it Asperger's or Autism?

    Recently, there has been a movement to remove Asperger's from the autism spectrum altogether. Many parents, psychologists, and Asperger's individuals believe that the disorder is clearly different enough to be classified independently.

    Whether a person is considered as having Asperger's or high functioning autism, they will have difficulty with social interaction, a key skill needed to function well in society.

    In the debate of Asperger's vs high functioning autism, the real issue is not whether the condition is Asperger’s or high functioning autism, it’s how do we cure, treat, or prevent all pervasive developmental disorders?

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