Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
What is Asperger syndrome?
Asperger syndrome, also known as Asperger’s syndrome or simply Asperger’s, is the old name for a condition that is now recognized as part of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Since 2013, Asperger’s has no longer been used as a separate medical diagnosis in large parts of the world including the U.S., though many people continue to use the term in their personal lives or colloquially.
People who previously might have been diagnosed with Asperger’s would generally be considered to be on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum and may have less severe symptoms than others affected by autism. Their IQ is usually in what is considered to be the normal or above-normal range, and their language skills may be very good. However, they still experience challenges with communication.
Autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong developmental disorder that significantly affects the ways in which people communicate and interact. For some people, a diagnosis of Asperger’s may not have been made until fairly late in childhood or adulthood, as signs of the condition may not have been immediately recognized.
Symptoms of Asperger syndrome
- A narrow range of interests or obsession with certain topics
- Difficulties with social situations and communication with others
- Speech and hearing abnormalities
- Heightened sensory sensitivity
- Placing high value on rules and routines
Symptoms such as these may sometimes be referred to as Asperger’s traits or characteristics.
In addition, typical physical signs that may have previously led to a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome include:
- Hypermobile (loose) joints
- Difficulties with walking, balance, handwriting, rhythm and other coordinated movements
- Difficulties with ball play
Good to know: People who might have previously been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome tend to have normal or above-average intelligence, but may behave insensitively in social situations. They may also appear indifferent toward their loved ones.
Asperger’s in women
Autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed more often in men, and symptoms may not be recognized as quickly, if at all, in girls and women. This may lead to possible underdiagnosis of the condition, particularly in those who could be considered to be higher-functioning.
Asperger’s in children
If a child has autism spectrum disorder, it is now usually possible to diagnose the condition by the time they are two to three years old. Signs of what might previously have been termed Asperger syndrome in toddlers and young children may include:
- Not expressing emotion or expressing only a limited range of emotions
- Difficulty understanding emotions in others
- Lack of interest in playing with other children
- Interest in one particular toy or object
What causes Asperger syndrome?
The causes of autism spectrum disorder are not yet fully understood. However, it is thought that genetic and possibly also environmental factors are involved.
Good to know: Research has shown that there is no link of any kind between vaccines and autism.
Diagnosis of Asperger syndrome
Asperger’s was previously a separate medical diagnosis. However, in 2013, Asperger syndrome was classified under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder with the introduction of the widely-used Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5, or DSM-5.
In the International Classification of Diseases, tenth edition, or ICD-10, another major diagnostic manual, which is used in the U.K. among other parts of the world, Asperger syndrome still appears as a diagnosis under pervasive developmental disorders. However, with the adoption and implementation of the new edition, ICD-11, this is due to change, classifying Asperger’s as part of autism spectrum disorder in line with the DSM-5.
Autism spectrum disorder, whether in a child or adult, can only be diagnosed by a licensed healthcare professional. They will typically use a number of different assessments and tests to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Asperger syndrome
Treatment for any type of autism depends on the specific symptoms, needs and circumstances of the person with the condition. A number of therapies may be able to minimize symptoms and help the person to function in daily life.
Recommended therapies may include:
- Early interventions for children
- Behavioral therapy
- Skills training
Asperger syndrome FAQs
Q: Is Asperger’s a form of autism?
A: Yes. Asperger syndrome is widely recognized as part of autism spectrum disorder.
Q: Can Asperger’s be misdiagnosed as ADHD?
A: In some cases, symptoms of Asperger syndrome (now classified as part of autism spectrum disorder) may be mistaken for other conditions, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many people with autism spectrum disorder also have ADHD.
Q: Can Asperger’s go away?
A: Autism spectrum disorder cannot be cured, but, with appropriate support and treatment, a person with the condition can live a full life. Various therapies may help to improve the affected person’s symptoms and how they function in daily life and society.
Associated terms used for Asperger syndrome
- Asperger’s syndrome
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- Asperger’s disorder
UpToDate. “Autism spectrum disorder: Terminology, epidemiology, and pathogenesis.” February 20, 2019. Accessed February 25, 2019. ↩ ↩
International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Revision (ICD-10). “Chapter V: Mental and behavioural disorders (F00-F99).” 2016. Accessed January 15, 2019. ↩
International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 11th Revision, ICD-11 (Foundation). “Autism spectrum disorder without disorder of intellectual development and with mild or no impairment of functional language.” January 14, 2019. Accessed January 15, 2019. ↩