Asperger’s Syndrome & Related Conditions

The term “Asperger’s Syndrome” refers to a particular profile of people on the Autism Spectrum. Like Autism as a whole, people with Asperger’s are affected by the condition in different ways and may require different levels of support.

It can sometimes be confusing for people to understand specifically what is meant by “Asperger’s Syndrome” and whether it is Autism or another condition completely. We will try and make things as clear as possible for you on this page.

Asperger’s Syndrome is a type or profile of people on the Autism Spectrum. In other words, people with Asperger’s Syndrome have Autism/are Autistic but are being described as being part of a particular cohort on the Spectrum. People with Asperger’s Syndrome face the same types of challenges as others on the Autism Spectrum, such as difficulties with communication, interacting with others, processing the sensory environment and understanding social situations. The difference is that people with Asperger’s Syndrome generally do not have as many difficulties with speech as those who have a diagnosis of Autism, that said people with the condition can still find it hard to communicate with others and can often have a very literal understanding and use of language. Usually people with Asperger’s Syndrome do not have learning disabilities, like other people with Autism may have, however they may have specific learning difficulties or related conditions such as Dyslexia.

People with Asperger’s Syndrome often have very intense special interests which they can focus on and may become very talented in.

Asperger’s Syndrome can be more difficult to diagnose because it varies so much in each person and because some of the challenges experienced by those with the condition may present more subtly than those who have a diagnosis of Autism. As a result, it is not uncommon for people to get a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome later than someone with a diagnosis of Autism. Indeed, due to increased publicity around Asperger’s Syndrome in recent years, many adults have sought and received diagnosis – having never received support when they were younger but identifying with many of the traits and characteristics of the condition.

Many people with Asperger’s Syndrome can be misunderstood or have very high expectations placed upon them, particularly if other people do not identify their Autistic traits and characteristics. This can lead to intolerance, bullying and exclusion.

This is where things really begin to get confusing! Due to the huge diversity of the Autism Spectrum, over the years different words have emerged to describe people with similar experiences on the Spectrum – these include Asperger’s Syndrome (named after the Austrian Psychiatrist, Hans Asperger), Kanner’s Autism (also known as “Classical Autism” and named for Austrian Psychiatrist, Leo Kanner), Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), Pathological Demand Avoidance Disorder (PDA) and the list goes on! All are Autism but simply different expressions and experiences of the condition.

What can often cause confusion however is the huge similarities between people who may be referred to as “High-Functioning” Autism (which in and of itself is a controversial term) and Asperger’s Syndrome. Many a PhD has been written exploring this very topic – but let’s try to keep it clear here! Dr. Tony Attwood succinctly answers the question below.

The answer to this question is linked closely to the above. The most commonly used diagnostic manual is the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and it is edited and owned by the American Psychiatric Association. In a controversial decision, their 2013 revision, DSM-V, deleted Asperger’s Syndrome as its own classification (having only inserted it into the manual in the 1994 edition, DSV-IV).

We could explain at some length the thinking and rational of those opposed and in favour of this decision but put simply the DSM committee was of the view that the many different labels associated with Autism was leading to a lack of consistency in diagnosis. All types of Autism where brought under the umbrella term of “Autism Spectrum Disorders” with 3 levels included in the manual to note the severity of particular cases of the condition. Level 1, in this new diagnostic criteria, most closely aligns with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Many people fear that the new diagnostic criteria will exclude some people who would have previously been able to obtain an Asperger’s diagnosis but who, they argue, will not meet the new criteria. Only time will tell if this is the case.

  1. While the DSM is the most used diagnostic manual it is not the sole diagnostic manual, ICD (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems) is administered by the World Health Organisation and its revised edition (ICD-11) is due in 2018, a campaign continues to ensure Asperger’s Syndrome remains in that diagnostic manual.
  2. While undoubtedly the new diagnostic criteria will take root overtime, many clinicians continue to diagnose Asperger’s Syndrome and these diagnoses continue to be recognised by the Departments of Health, Education and Social Protection in Ireland
  3. People who previously were diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome continue to hold that diagnosis
Can this be improved? Contact webeditor@asiam.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.