Where do you think the name label came from?
Where do you think the name label came from?
Source: Autism Society of America
Asperger's Disorder was first described in the 1940s by Viennese pediatrician Hans
Asperger who observed autistic-like behaviors and difficulties with social and communication
skills in boys who had normal intelligence and language development. Many professionals
felt Asperger's Disorder was simply a milder form of autism and used the term "high-
functioning autism" to describe these individuals. Professor Uta Frith, with the Institute of
Cognitive Neuroscience of University College London and author of Autism and Asperger
Syndrome, describes individuals with Asperger's Disorder as "having a dash of Autism."
Asperger's Disorder was added to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) in 1994 as a separate disorder from autism.
However, there are still many professionals who consider Asperger's Disorder a less severe
form of autism.
What distinguishes Asperger's Disorder from autism is the severity of the symptoms and the
absence of language delays. Children with Asperger's Disorder may be only mildly affected
and frequently have good language and cognitive skills. To the untrained observer, a child
with Asperger's Disorder may just seem like a normal child behaving differently.
Children with autism are frequently seen as aloof and uninterested in others. This is not the
case with Asperger's Disorder. Individuals with Asperger's Disorder usually want to fit in and
have interaction with others; they simply don't know how to do it. They may be socially
awkward, not understanding of conventional social rules, or may show a lack of empathy.
They may have limited eye contact, seem to be unengaged in a conversation, and not
understand the use of gestures.
Interests in a particular subject may border on the obsessive. Children with Asperger's
Disorder frequently like to collect categories of things, such as rocks or bottle caps. They
may be proficient in knowing categories of information, such as baseball statistics or Latin
names of flowers. While they may have good rote memory skills, they have difficulty with
One of the major differences between Asperger's Disorder and autism is that, by definition,
there is no speech delay in Asperger's. In fact, children with Asperger's Disorder frequently
have good language skills; they simply use language in different ways. Speech patterns may
be unusual, lack inflection or have a rhythmic nature or it may be formal, but too loud or high
pitched. Children with Asperger's Disorder may not understand the subtleties of language,
such as irony and humor, or they may not understand the give and take nature of a
Another distinction between Asperger's Disorder and autism concerns cognitive ability. While
some individuals with Autism experience mental retardation, by definition a person with
Asperger's Disorder cannot possess a "clinically significant" cognitive delay and most
possess an average to above average intelligence.
While motor difficulties are not a specific criteria for Asperger's, children with Asperger's
Disorder frequently have motor skill delays and may appear clumsy or awkward.
Learn more about:
• Working with an Individual with Aspergers
• Educational Issues
• Adults with Aspergers
• Helpful Resources
The essential features of Asperger's Disorder are severe and sustained impairment in social
interaction and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interest, and
activity. The disturbance must clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, and
other important areas of functioning. In contrast to Autistic Disorder, there are no clinically
significant delays in language. In addition there are no clinically significant delays in cognitive
development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior,
and curiosity about the environment in childhood.
A. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following
• Marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye
gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction
• Failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
• A lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with
other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other
• Lack of social or emotional reciprocity
B. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as
manifested by at least one of the following:
• Encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of
interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
• Apparently inflexible adherence to specific, non-functional routines or rituals
• Stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting,
or complex whole-body movements)
• Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects
C. The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other
important areas of functioning.
D. There is no clinically significant general delay in language (e.g., single words used by age
2 years, communicative phrases used by age 3 years)
E. There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of
age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior (other than in social interaction), and
curiosity about the environment in childhood.
F. Criteria are not met for another specific Pervasive Developmental Disorder or
Diagnosis of Asperger's Disorder is on the increase although it is unclear whether it is more
prevalent or whether more professionals are detecting it. The symptoms for Asperger's
Disorder are the same as those listed for autism in the DSM-IV. However, children with AS do
not have delays in the area of communication and language. In fact, to be diagnosed with
Asperger, a child must have had normal language development as well as normal
intelligence. The DSM-IV criteria for AS specifies that the individual must have "severe and
sustained impairment in social interaction, and the development of restricted, repetitive
patterns of behavior, interests and activities," that must "cause clinically significant
impairment in social occupational or other important areas of functioning."
The first step to diagnosis is an assessment, including a developmental history and
observation. This should be done by medical professionals experienced with Autism and
other PDDs. If Asperger's Disorder or high functioning autism is suspected, the diagnosis of
autism will generally be ruled out first. Early diagnosis is also important; children with
Asperger's Disorder who are diagnosed and treated early in life have an increased chance
of being successful in school and eventually living independently.
Working with an Individual with Asperger Syndrome
Children with Asperger's Disorder may present a challenge for educators. While they appear
capable and are good with memorization and factual information, they may be weak in
comprehension and cognitively inflexible. Educators need to capitalize on their abilities,
discovering their strengths and interests in order to develop their talents.
People with Asperger's Disorder particularly need assistance in developing their social and
communication skills. Children and young adults who received social and communications
skills training are better able to express themselves, understand language and become more
skillful at communicating with others, increasing their likelihood of successful social
interactions. Early intervention means a better chance for independent living and further
While few programs are designed specifically to address Asperger's Disorder, some of the
treatment approaches used for people with "high functioning" Autism, such as Applied
Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and Treatment & Education of Autistic and Related
Communication of Handicapped Children (TEACCH), may be appropriate for a person with
Asperger Syndrome. ABA is based on the idea that behavior rewarded will more likely be
repeated. ABA is typically done on a one-to-one basis and may focus on specific behaviors
and communication skills. TEACCH was developed at the School of Medicine at the
University of North Carolina as a structured teaching approach that used the child's visual
and rote memory strengths to improve communication, social and coping skills. Pictures and
charts that show a daily schedule help the child with Asperger's Disorder to anticipate what
will happen during the day. This is particularly important for children with Asperger's Disorder
since they usually have difficulties with changes in routine.
Because children with Asperger's Disorder may be only mildly affected, they may begin
school prior to being diagnosed. During the elementary years, behavioral issues and
immaturity may be a problem but academically, these children frequently do quite well. The
ability to memorize information, do calculations and focus intensively serves them well. But as
they move through the school system, difficulties with social skills, language and obsessive
behaviors become more problematic and may leave them vulnerable to teasing from
Getting special education services may be difficult because children with AS have normal or
above normal intelligence and appear capable. However, every child with disabilities is
guaranteed a free, appropriate public education through the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA). Keep in mind that IDEA establishes that an appropriate educational
program must be provided, not necessarily an "ideal" program or the one you feel is best for
your child. The law specifies that educational placement should be determined individually
for each child, based on that child's specific needs, not solely on the diagnosis or category.
No one program or amount of services is appropriate for all children with disabilities. It is
important that you work with the school to obtain the educational support and services that
your child needs. The first step should be a comprehensive needs assessment that will
become the blueprint for your child's educational plan. Then, in collaboration with your
child's school and teachers, develop a well-defined and thorough Individualized Education
Plan (IEP). The IEP is a written document that outlines the child's individual educational
program, tailored to his or her needs. A program appropriate for one child with Asperger's
Disorder may not be appropriate for another.
While many children with Asperger's Disorder may participate in mainstream society, they still
need support services. Teachers need to be informed that these children are not simply
acting up or being difficult.
Counselors can provide emotional support and assist with social skills, helping children with
AS to learn how to react to social cues and situations. Children with Asperger's Disorder may
use a "buddy" who serves as a role model for social situations and may facilitate interactions
with others by explaining appropriate behavior.
Speech and language therapists may help in the use of appropriate language and
occupational therapists can deal with delays in motor development.
Dr. Stephen Bauer, a developmental pediatrician at the Pediatric Development Center of
Unity Health in Rochester, New York, suggests that the most important step in helping
children with Asperger's Disorder is for schools to recognize that the child has "an inherent
developmental disorder which causes him/her to behave and respond in a different way from
other students." Because children with Asperger's Disorder respond best to a regular,
organized routine, Bauer recommends the use of charts and pictures to help the child
visualize the day and to prepare him or her for any changes in advance. Bauer also
emphasizes the need to avoid power struggles since children with Asperger's Disorder will
become more rigid and stubborn if confronted or forced.
Adults with Asperger Disorder
The transition for individuals with Asperger's Disorder from federally-mandated services
through the school system to adult services can be a challenge. While entitlement to public
education ends at age 18, the IDEA requires that transition planning begins at age 14 and
becomes a formal part of the student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This transition
planning should include the student with AS, parents and members of the IEP team who work
together to help the individual make decisions about his/her next steps. An Individualized
Transition Plan (ITP) is developed that outlines transition services that may include
education or vocational training, employment, living arrangements and community
participation, to name a few.
The first step in transition planning should be to take a look at the individual's interests,
abilities, and needs. For example, what type of educational needs must be met? College,
vocational training, adult education? Where can the young adult find employment and
training services? What types of living arrangements are best?
Many individuals with Asperger's Disorder are able to continue their education by attending
college or trade schools. This also provides an opportunity to further social interaction,
particularly in areas where the individual has key interests. Be sure that the institution offers
training or classes of interest to the individual. Find out what accommodations are available
to address his or her special needs. Work with your young adult in selecting classes that
take advantage of his or her strengths.
Employment should take advantage of the individual's strengths and abilities. Temple
Grandin, Ph.D. suggests, "jobs should have a well-defined goal or endpoint, " and that your
"boss must recognize your social limitations." In A Parent's Guide to Asperger Syndrome and
High-Functioning Autism the authors describe three employment possibilities: competitive,
supported and secure or sheltered.
Competitive employment is the most independent with no support offered in the work
environment. Individuals with AS may be successful in careers that require focus on details
but have limited social interaction with colleagues such as computer sciences, research or
library sciences. In supported employment, a system of supports allow individuals to have
paid employment in the community, sometimes as part of a mobile crew, other times
individually in a job developed for the person. In secure or sheltered employment, an
individual is guaranteed a job in a facility-based setting. Individuals in secure settings
generally also receive work skills and behavior training while sheltered employment may not
provide training that would allow for more independence.
To look for employment, begin by contacting agencies that may be of help such as state
employment offices, social services offices, mental health departments, and disability-specific
organizations. Find out about special projects in your area and determine the eligibility to
participate in these programs. It is important to find employers who are willing to work with
people with Asperger's Disorder.
Whether an adult with Asperger's Disorder continues to live at home or moves out into the
community, will be determined in large part by his/her ability to manage every day tasks with
little or no supervision. For example, can he handle housework, cooking, shopping, and bill
paying? Is she able to use public transportation? Many families prefer to start with some
supportive living arrangement and move towards increased independence.
Supervised group homes usually serve several individuals with disabilities. They are typically
located in residential neighborhoods in an average family home. The homes are staffed by
trained professionals who assist residents based on the person's level of need. Usually the
residents have a job, which takes them away from home during the day.
A supervised apartment may be suitable for individuals who prefer to live with fewer people,
but still require some supervision and assistance. There is usually no daily supervision, but
someone comes by several times a week. The residents are responsible for going to work,
preparing meals, personal care and housekeeping needs. A supervised apartment setting is
a good transition to independent living.
Independent living means just that individuals live in their own apartments or houses and
require little, if any, support services from outside agencies. Services may be limited to
helping with complex problem-solving issues rather than day-to-day living skills. For instance,
some individuals may need assistance with managing money or handling government
bureaucracies. It is also important for those living independently to have a "buddy" who lives
nearby that can be contacted for support. Support systems within the community might
include bus drivers, waitresses, or coworkers.
Many people think of adulthood in terms of getting a job and living in a particular area, but
having friends and a sense of belonging in a community are also important. Individuals with
Asperger's Disorder may need assistance in encouraging friendships and structuring time for
special interests. Many of the support systems developed in the early years may continue to
Other Resources About Asperger Syndrome
Many local chapters of the Autism Society of America have members who have Asperger
Syndrome or parents of children with Asperger Syndrome. Some chapters even have special
To find an ASA chapter near you, click here.