In order to more fully understand the difference between Autism and Aspergers it is helpful to understand that Autism, also referred to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), covers a range of developmental and cognitive abilities ranging from mild to significant impairments. A person who has been diagnosed with autism may be so severely affected that there are significant impairments to social, language, and cognitive development. On the other hand, autism may be so mild that a person my function at a very high level intellectually while continuing to struggle with social interactions.
One of the primary areas of difficulty for a person with autism is in the area of language development. Since the early 1990′s many young people diagnosed with Autism have made progress (approximately 85%) with language development partly due to early intervention and increased awareness and understanding. Although speech can be developed, many individuals with autism continue to struggle with repetition of words they have recently heard (echolalia), and an inconsistent style of speech with respect to language patterns. Grammatical structure may also present difficulty. The development of vocabulary may be inconsistent. It is not unusual for children and adults with high-functioning autism to have patterns of language that are not expressively different then individuals with high functioning Asperger’s syndrome.
What stands out as a characteristic trait in individuals with Asperger’s is a heightened awareness and interest in a specific area. The intensity of the focus on a subject is often more significant than the desire to interact socially. When autism signs are diagnosed the focus often tends to be centered on order, structure, and routine. Although, once again, the difference is harder to discern when comparing high-functioning autism to Asperger’s syndrome.
By definition of ASD, for a person with autism, cognitive impairment is often a marked deficit. In addition to language deficits, functional and self-help skills often present substantial difficulty. Individuals with Asperger’s, on the other hand, characteristically have average to above average intellectual skills. While social skills present difficulty, language and self-help skills are often close to age appropriate.
When considering the types of autism and Asperger’s symptoms the lines are not always clear. As previously mentioned, mild autism and Asperger’s syndrome may look very similar. The difficulty lies in the fact that every individual is different. No two people react and behave in the same way. To better understand the difference between autism and Aspergers one must look at the specific symptoms, behaviors, and their frequency, while continuing to gather information on autism and the symptoms of Aspergers.