Is Asperger’s Syndrome a Type of Autism?

Medically Reviewed on 12/29/2021

History of Asperger’s syndrome

Asperger's syndrome or Asperger's is a developmental disorder. Asperger's is thought to be a similar but less severe form of autism.
Asperger's syndrome or Asperger's is a developmental disorder. Asperger's is thought to be a similar but less severe form of autism.

Asperger’s syndrome or Asperger’s is a developmental disorder. It is a type of autism spectrum disorder. People with Asperger’s have behavioral challenges and lack social and communication skills.

Asperger’s is thought to be a similar but less severe form of autism. But the diagnosis of Asperger’s vs. autism can be confusing.

Asperger’s syndrome was first reported in 1944 by Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger. He observed it in four young patients who showed a lack of social and communication skills. But they had average to high intelligence and language skills.

In 1981, the British psychiatrist Lorna Wing coined the term “Asperger’s syndrome” for patients with similar behavior. Asperger’s syndrome was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM- IV) in 1994. 

People with Asperger’s show symptoms similar to but milder than those with autism. So doctors and psychiatrists referred to Asperger’s as “high-functioning autism.” But Asperger’s and autism can be difficult to tell apart. 

In 2013, Asperger’s and other types of autism were added under “autism spectrum disorder” in the updated DSM-V to simplify diagnosis.

What is autism spectrum disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder is the umbrella term used for autism and its types. It is a developmental disorder caused by differences in the brain. Patients with autism face challenges with social interaction and communication. Patients also show repetitive behaviors and few interests. 

It is considered to be a lifelong condition. Its severity can vary among people. 

Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder

Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder include a lack of social and communication skills. People with this condition tend to avoid eye contact and have scripted or formal speech. They may find it challenging to understand and show emotions, facial expressions, and nonverbal gestures like pointing at something. 

They may also have difficulty making and keeping friends. This social isolation can be the result of decreased sharing of interests with others.

People with autism spectrum disorder have restricted interests, as they tend to focus on niche subjects and become obsessed with them. They may have difficulty coping with change and new experiences because they need sameness and a fixed routine. 

People with autism spectrum disorder often perform repetitive behaviors, and may:

  • Arrange things in a particular order
  • Repeat words or phrases
  • Play with the same toys in the same way
  • Repeat movements like flapping hands, rocking, or spinning. 

Children with autism spectrum disorder show delayed language, movement, or learning skills. They may even have unusual eating and sleeping habits and unusual mood or emotional reactions. 

Other symptoms can include high sensitivity to light or noise, epilepsy or seizure disorder, and gastrointestinal problems like constipation. Some may also have anxiety, and lack of fear or more fear than expected.

Symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome

People with Asperger’s may show a lack of social skills and empathy. They may have difficulty in holding conversations. They may have problems with nonverbal skills like tone or loudness. They might not be able to catch the subtleties of language or understand gestures, humor, and sarcasm. 

Some other symptoms of Asperger’s include:

  • Few interests
  • Limited eye contact
  • Repetitive behavior or desire for sameness
  • Distinct strengths such as attention to detail, extreme focus, and ability to recognize patterns
  • High sensitivity to lights, sounds, or tastes
  • Clumsiness or uncoordinated movements 

Some may also have anxiety and depression. These symptoms may vary among people. Many overcome them by working on their strengths. 

Asperger’s vs. autism

Asperger’s can be distinguished from autism as its symptoms are less severe. 

People with autism may not speak due to delayed speech or language development. But people with Asperger’s don’t have such language or speech delays. They have normal language development and speech. 

People with autism tend to remain aloof and uninterested in other people. Unlike them, those with Asperger’s show the desire to fit in. They may even try to interact with others, although they lack the social skills to do so. 

Some people with autism may have intellectual disabilities and low intelligence. But people with Asperger’s show average or high intelligence and mental skills.

People with Asperger’s may have motor skill or movement development delays. This can result in clumsiness or awkwardness.

Diagnosis of Asperger’s vs. autism

The DSM-IV classifies Asperger’s and autism as separate disorders, although the symptoms listed for both were the same. But people with Asperger’s have normal language development and intelligence, unlike those with autism.

According to DSM-V, Asperger’s and autism fall under autism spectrum disorder. At present, people with symptoms of Asperger’s are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. 

An experienced professional can diagnose autism spectrum disorder by checking for symptoms and your developmental history. Early diagnosis in childhood can help children with autism spectrum disorder get early treatment. This can help them function and live independently later in life.

Treatment of Asperger’s vs. autism

There is no specific cure for Asperger’s and autism. But the following interventions can help improve the condition:

  • Behavioral analysis and social skills training to understand the challenges faced by children with autism spectrum disorder and improve their skills
  • Speech and language therapy to improve speech and understanding of language
  • Occupational therapy to improve daily life skills
  • Management training and support groups to help parents respond to their child’s behaviors and cope with raising a child with autism spectrum disorder
  • Special education to help children with autism spectrum disorder to adjust and do well academically

Often, psychotherapy and medication are also used to treat anxiety and depression that occur alongside autism spectrum disorder.


Autism is a developmental disability. See Answer
Medically Reviewed on 12/29/2021

American Psychiatric Association: "What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?"

Autism Society: "Asperger's Syndrome."

Autism speaks: "What Is Asperger Syndrome?"

CDC: "Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders."

Therapeutic Pathways: "What is the difference between autism and Asperger's?"