Asperger’s differs from autism although according to the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, they are not separate disorders. Asperger’s is classified as an autism spectrum disorder. However, this classification remains a controversial decision, and many experts would argue that there are several distinct differences in the two disorders.
One of the differences in Asperger’s and autism is when the condition is diagnosed. Autism is usually diagnosed when a child is between the ages of two and four. Asperger’s may not be diagnosed until a child is well into the teen years or even in adulthood. While this remains generally true, there is also a growing body of evidence that women with milder forms of autism may be diagnosed much later in life because the symptoms for girls can differ from those displayed by boys. The diagnostic criteria for autism and Asperger’s are also different, with an Asperger’s diagnosis more rooted in social difficulties.
One of the reasons for the early diagnosis of autism is that the first sign of the condition is often a language delay. This is also one of the main and most common differences in autism and Asperger’s. Children with Asperger’s do not suffer from a language delay and may actually appear neurotypical to the casual observer. Their language skills may be excellent compared to others their age. However, they might also display unusual speech patterns, talk too loudly or have other unusual verbal habits.
Effects on Intelligence
As is the case with language delay, there is no cognitive impairment with Asperger’s. In fact, while the intelligence of children with Asperger’s may range from average to high, it is not uncommon for children with Asperger’s to be very intelligent. However, sometimes this intelligence is masked with behavioral problems. Children with autism may have severe or mild cognitive impairment or they might be highly intelligent. Children with Asperger’s may sometimes be diagnosed with a learning disability, but cognitive impairment negates the possibility of an Asperger’s diagnosis.
Some researchers have looked at whether there are brain differences in children with autism versus those with Asperger’s. Some differences have been identified. For example, in the part of the brain that controls language, there are fewer folds in children who have Asperger’s compared to children who have autism. Connections in the brain’s left hemisphere may also be weaker for children with autism compared to children with Asperger’s. A study that appeared in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience reported on research that examined the amount of gray matter in the MRIs of people with autism and Asperger’s. Researchers found significant differences, with autism tending to show more excess gray matter on both sides.
As these differences indicate, while some people might think of Asperger’s as simply a milder form of autism, this is not entirely accurate. It is likely that further research and refinement of the definition of both disorders will need to continue as a more accurate picture emerges of the symptoms and physical ways in which Asperger’s differs from autism.