Asperger's Syndrome
(Asperger Syndrome, Asperger Disorder)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

Asperger's syndrome facts

  • Asperger's syndrome was formerly characterized as a distinct autism spectrum disorder; the DSM-5 in May 2013 combined the diagnosis with autistic disorder into one condition called autism spectrum disorder or ASD.
  • People with Asperger's syndrome have normal to above-average intelligence but typically have difficulties with social interactions and often have pervasive, absorbing interests in special topics.
  • Abnormalities in the subtle use of language and interpretation of language are common with Asperger's syndrome, although language development (grammar, syntax, etc.) is normal.
  • The degree of severity of symptoms can vary among affected individuals.
  • Anxiety and frustration may contribute to disruptive behaviors or depression in people with Asperger's syndrome.
  • Successful treatment generally involves one or multiple social, behavioral, and/or educational interventions.
  • The personality and cognitive traits common to those with Asperger's syndrome are seen as beneficial by many, and many people with Asperger's syndrome believe it has helped advance their professional lives.

What is Asperger's syndrome?

Comment on this

Asperger's syndrome, also known as Asperger disorder or Asperger syndrome, is one of a group of neurodevelopmental disorders that have effects on an individual's behavior, use of language and communication, and pattern of social interactions. Asperger disorder was formerly characterized as one distinct autism spectrum disorder (others included autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified [PDD-NOS]), although Asperger's syndrome was considered to be at the milder, or higher-functioning, range of this spectrum. There is still some controversy as to whether Asperger's syndrome should be regarded as a separate clinical entity or simply represents a high-functioning form of autism. In the revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) published in May 2013, Asperger's syndrome and autistic disorder have been combined into one condition for diagnostic purposes, known as ASD. This change was controversial, because many experts believe that people formerly diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome will not meet the diagnostic criteria for ASD. Also, many experts feel that Asperger's syndrome should be preserved as a separate diagnostic entity to represent a condition related to, but not the same as, autism. Those diagnosed with Asperger's disorder were felt to have a higher-functioning form of autism or autism-related condition. People with Asperger's syndrome typically have normal to above-average intelligence but typically have difficulties with social interactions and often have pervasive, absorbing interests in special topics.

Asperger's syndrome is named for Dr. Hans Asperger, an Austrian pediatrician, who first described the condition in 1944. Dr. Asperger described four boys who showed "a lack of empathy, little ability to form friendships, one-sided conversation, intense absorption in a special interest, and clumsy movements." Because of their obsessive interests in and knowledge of particular subjects, he termed the boys "little professors." The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recognized Asperger disorder as a specific entity and published diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (DSM-IV) in 1994. Most recently, after significant deliberation, the APA recommended "subsuming" Asperger's Disorder into Autism Spectrum Disorders for the next edition DSM-V. However, there has been significant academic debate regarding this decision, and since this edition is not expected to be approved and published until 2013, there will be more debates on the matter.

Today, many experts in the field stress the particular gifts and positive aspects of Asperger syndrome and consider it to represent a different, but not necessarily defective, way of thinking. Positive characteristics of people with Asperger syndrome have been described as beneficial in many professions and include:

  • the increased ability to focus on details,
  • the capacity to persevere in specific interests without being swayed by others' opinions,
  • the ability to work independently,
  • the recognition of patterns that may be missed by others,
  • intensity, and
  • an original way of thinking.

Dr. Temple Grandin, a noted engineer, author, and professor who suffers from Asperger disorder believes that her condition has been an asset in her professional life. Her life and story was featured in a film that first aired in 2010.

Although the diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome is not possible without direct testing and observation of an individual, it has been suggested by some authors that many successful historical figures may have had Asperger's syndrome, including Mozart, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Marie Curie. Of course, definitive diagnosis of historical figures with Asperger's syndrome is not possible, and many of the traits exhibited by people with Asperger's syndrome can also occur because of intellectual giftedness or even attention deficit disorder (ADD).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/11/2013

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Asperger's Syndrome - Experience Question: Please describe your experience with Asperger's syndrome.
Asperger's Syndrome - Symptoms Question: What are/were the symptoms associated with Asperger's syndrome in you or a relative?
Asperger's Syndrome - Diagnosis Question: How was Asperger's syndrome diagnosed in you, a friend, or relative?
Asperger's Syndrome - Treatment Question: Describe the treatment for Asperger's syndrome in you or someone you know.

8 Tips for Parents of Kids with Asperger's Syndrome

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

Children and teens with Asperger's syndrome often struggle with the social skills necessary for success in school and social settings. Tony Attwood, a psychologist and acclaimed expert on Asperger's syndrome, has written books that can help parents and teachers better understand the nature of this complex condition. He also offers proven tips and advice to help kids and teens with Asperger's to bolster their social skills.