Asperger’s Vs. Autism: What Does The Diagnosis Mean?
By Sarah Fader
Updated February 05, 2020
Reviewer Emily Genever
Many people don't even know what Asperger's really is because it's something that isn't talked about on its own much. Instead, most people simply talk about autism. The truth is, Asperger's is a type of autism, which is likely why most people just group it under the heading of autism. But it has its own separate definitions at the same time. It also has some things you should know about the treatments and other aspects and how they could affect a child and an adult throughout their life.
What is Autism?
Autism is actually not one specific condition, though it is characterized by a group of similar symptoms. Instead, autism is actually considered a spectrum. Where many disorders or diseases are cut and dry, you either have it or you don't, autism is on a sliding scale where one person may have a mild form and another may have a more severe form. Many children are diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum and for many, they may be able to continue to live a completely normal life, while others may need a little more assistance throughout their life.
In general, those with some form of autism experience challenges with social skills and repetitive behaviors as well as challenges to behavior, speech and non-verbal communication. On the other hand, these individuals will often exhibit strengths in other areas with some being extremely gifted in intelligence in general or math, for example. Autistic children and adults have definitely been known to make some amazing advancements in our world because of their unique insight and these gifts they seem to exhibit.
What is Asperger's?
Asperger Syndrome, also commonly referred to as simply 'Asperger's' is considered a form of high functioning autism. Children who are diagnosed with Asperger's may have difficulty interacting with others in a social setting and may be uncomfortable around people. At the same time, they may also have delayed motor development and repetitive behaviors. These may help others to recognize the potential for a type of autism, but the advanced aspects of a child who may have Asperger's can make this more difficult to recognize. Children with this form of autism may have average or even advanced capabilities in language and cognitive development, for example.
Symptoms of Asperger's
There are a number of different symptoms that doctors and other professionals look for when diagnosing a child with Asperger's. These could include:
- Limited social interaction - contrary to most small children who tend to like hugging and reaching out to others or even simply talking to others, a child with Asperger's may avoid touching or react negatively to someone touching them or speaking to them. On the other hand, they may touch or speak inappropriately.
- Repetition in speech - a child with Asperger's may speak very clearly and well, with a good vocabulary for their age or even an advanced one, but the tone may be robotic or they may repeat words in a fashion that is unusual.
- Difficulty in non-verbal communication - The child may have no problem communicating through verbal methods by telling you what they want but their non-verbal communication may not reflect the same thing. They may have difficulty controlling facial muscles or making proper gestures for what they are trying to convey.
- Inward focus - they may have difficulty thinking about or talking about others but will generally talk about themselves and their own thoughts or feelings without much difficulty.
- Don't understand social or emotional norms - they may have difficulty reading social cues or understanding the emotions of others. They may also have trouble reacting appropriately to the emotions of others or understanding things that are not meant to be taken literally.
- Avoid eye contact and communication - they may not carry on a conversation with someone else or may not make eye contact when they do talk with you. They may ignore the conversation entirely or may struggle to understand what they should say or do in the context. Instead, they may communicate entirely by themselves, carrying on one-sided conversations.
- Fixation on specific activities or topics - a child with Asperger's may have one specific topic that they absolutely love and may fixate on this topic to the exclusion of others. They are often extremely advanced for their age in this area because they seek out as much information as they can find. Because it's an area that they have extreme interest in, their family and loved ones will often nurture this love which results in an increasing knowledge above their age group.
- Difficulty in movement or manner - they may not have the same motor skills that others in their age group have and may have difficult with fine motor skills or simply walking and moving around.
It's important to note that those who have Asperger's are generally not going to suffer from all of these symptoms at the same time. As Asperger's is one of the higher functioning forms of autism, children who are diagnosed tend to fit average standards for their age group in most areas but have a smaller number of areas where they may struggle, which could begin to cause them trouble in school or even in their workplace. Because of the milder form of autism that it represents, Asperger's may go entirely undiagnosed in children and may not be diagnosed until adulthood.
The Diagnosis and Treatment
Because these children and adults are so high functioning until they begin to have difficulties in their life, it is unlikely that they will be diagnosed at all. This is often because they have normal or even advanced language capabilities and can therefore learn and develop many of the skills that are expected for their age. However, when they begin to interact with others, they may start to have difficulty. With family members it may be difficult to notice these differences, but with friends it may be more obvious as their interactions could be different.
Difficulty initiating conversations or carrying on conversations in an average way may be one of the ways in which Asperger's is recognized in children. They may have difficulty talking about anything but their major topic of interest or may not understand that someone else is not listening or interested. They may also exhibit difficulty in understanding non-verbal cues, humor or implied content, which makes it more difficult for them to respond appropriately in social situations. These types of behavior can be more easily recognized by teachers and other professionals and may prompt further investigation or review.
Once a child is diagnosed with Asperger's there are many ways to go about helping them with areas where they may have difficulty. These include teaching social skills in a more structured way. Where most children are able to learn the social skills they need in life through interaction with others and without any kind of formal teaching, this can be more difficult for a child with Asperger's. By working with them in a formalized setting and providing more step by step instruction and activities it is definitely possible to help them understand social situations more easily and even feel more comfortable in them.
Some medications can be a good way to assist the other methods of treatment because they can help with other side effects or symptoms of Asperger's. For example, children and adults with this condition may feel anxiety, hyperactivity or even depression. With medication, these aspects can be aided and alleviated in most cases and the child or adult is then able to work with a counselor or programs in order to develop the social skills or behavioral skills necessary to live a happy and productive life. The medication is only designed to help with the side effects, not to treat the overall condition.
It's important to note that, as we mentioned, a child who does have Asperger's may have these difficulties in some areas but they often have amazing skills and abilities in other areas. These children may struggle in what many would consider to be basic activities, but the things that they know how to do that others can't are definitely to be considered in their evaluation. These individuals can most definitely change our ways of thinking. They can also learn how to adapt to those social situations that they may struggle with in the beginning, helping them to live the life they want.
For those who are struggling with Asperger's or the effects of it, speaking with a counselor can be a great way to help alleviate fears, anxiety and depression. BetterHelp.com is an online resource where you can speak with a counselor from the comfort of your own home. It's also a great way for you to start working towards your own future and whatever you may want for it. Youth or adults who are struggling can benefit from someone who is ready and able to listen to what they are experiencing and what they want out of life and that's what Better help is all about.