Feature Archive

Asperger Syndrome and Autism

You've probably heard of autism, but what is Asperger syndrome?

By Sarah Albert
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

You might remember Dustin Hoffman's powerful portrayal of an adult with autism in the movie Rain Man. Even if he gave you some idea of what it's like to be autistic, you probably have never heard about the many forms autism takes -- or about Asperger syndrome (AS), one of two main types of autism that often goes unrecognized until late in childhood, or is even missed through adulthood.

Like with classic autism, children with Asperger syndrome -- which is getting recognized more frequently later in life now -- often find themselves disconnected from others, seemingly in their own world. While researchers have yet to understand what causes AS, there is likely a genetic component. Some folks with Asperger syndrome obsess over unusual things, and communication can be a great challenge. People with Asperger syndrome are at times especially talented in a certain area, even brilliant but that's not typical. "It depends who you talk to, but it's a fairly low number of cases," says Bobby Newman, PhD, BCBA, the president-elect for the Association for the Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT).

Asperger syndrome is less about having extraordinary talents, and more about having difficulties with three main areas that Newman says are required for you to get diagnosed with any form of autism: socialization, communication, and behavior range. The symptoms of autism would also have to be present, even if missed, within the first three years of life, according to the diagnostic manual.