Asperger’s syndrome is now considered part of the autism spectrum. But many people with the diagnosis still see themselves as Aspies.
Asperger’s syndrome (aka Asperger’s disorder or simply “Asperger’s”) was used as a diagnosis from 1994 to 2013. What changed in 2013?
The current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) came out, and according to the DSM-5, Asperger’s syndrome is no longer a standalone diagnosis.
Rather, Asperger’s is now considered part of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
There have been mixed feelings about this change, especially for people who have an Asperger’s diagnosis and feel it describes them best. It’s seen as a controversial removal from the DSM, and some people
People with an Asperger’s diagnosis — some refer to themselves as Aspies — may have many of the same communication and behavioral patterns as autistic people, but with a couple of specifications.
Asperger’s syndrome was first described by the Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger in the 1940s. He noticed that some children had behaviors similar to autism, but with average intelligence levels and language development.
When the DSM-4 added Asperger’s syndrome, it described the condition as the same as autism with a key exception: people with Asperger’s didn’t have delays in the areas of communication and language.
- closer to neurotypical language development
- average intelligence
- noticeable differences in social interaction
- repetitive behaviors
- strong, focused approach to certain interests or activities
Asperger’s syndrome tends to be seen as a form of “high-functioning” autism. High-functioning autism typically means that a person’s language skills and development are considered “normal” according to neurotypical standards.
When the DSM-5 was published in 2013, Asperger’s syndrome was folded into autism spectrum disorder.
The specific behavior and communication patterns associated with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s tend to be classified as “requiring support.” This means people with an Asperger’s diagnosis might not need as much support in day-to-day life as other autistic people.
The idea behind ASD is that autism is a spectrum — or range — of persistent communication and behavior patterns.
Support needs also exist on somewhat of a spectrum for autistic people. While some people require significant day-to-day support, others need less.
In 2013, four different diagnoses were combined into autism spectrum disorder. These conditions were:
- Asperger’s disorder
- childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD)
- pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
An ASD diagnosis means a person’s behavior and communication skills fit certain patterns. And according to the DSM-5, they must show signs of these patterns by the time they’re 2 years old.
Criteria for an autism diagnosis includes:
- difficulty starting, joining, or participating in conversation
- differences in nonverbal communication (like eye contact or facial expressions)
- sensory processing differences (may react to touch, sound, or light in different ways from non-autistic people)
- preference for routines (may have certain habits or a set way of doing certain tasks)
- focused, strong interest in certain topics or activities
- stimming, or repetitive movements (like repetitive blinking or finger tapping)
- difficulty adjusting to or understanding context in relationships, especially in neurotypical contexts
One of the biggest differences between the two is that Asperger’s syndrome is no longer an up-to-date, standalone diagnosis.
The other major difference is that people with Asperger’s syndrome are considered high-functioning, meaning they:
- don’t have delays in communication and language
- have a higher chance of not being diagnosed as a child
- may need less day-to-day support
- may find it easier to mask or hide certain behavior patterns
Some “high-functioning” autistic people may not get a diagnosis until adulthood.
People with Asperger’s could also be likely to experience autistic burnout. This is an intense sense of exhaustion that can happen when an autistic person spends a lot of time masking, or hiding, certain behaviors or tendencies to blend in socially.
Autistic burnout can make it harder to handle emotions or do daily tasks. For example, an autistic person who usually communicates verbally (with words) may stop communicating that way during a time of burnout.
If you’re encountering any challenges related to an autism or Asperger’s diagnosis, there are ways to manage.
For parents of an autistic child, many approaches — including social or behavioral therapy — can be helpful during early childhood and beyond.
If you’re an Aspie, resources also exist to help you feel more supported and connected. The Asperger/Autism Spectrum Education Network (ASPEN) and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network are a couple of great resources to get started.
When Asperger’s syndrome was folded into the autism spectrum, some people
Some of these concerns include that a person with Asperger’s:
- might not meet the full diagnostic criteria for ASD
- might not receive all the support they need because they’re compared to people who need much higher levels of support or care
- may be placed in a learning program that doesn’t meet their needs
Still, other Aspies have embraced being on the autism spectrum as part of their identity.
Asperger’s disorder was a diagnostic term used between 1994 and 2013. People with this diagnosis behaved similarly to autistic people, but they were usually known for being “high-functioning.”
According to the DSM-5, people with an Asperger’s diagnosis now fit onto the autism spectrum and meet the criteria for an ASD diagnosis. Autistic people who identify with the Asperger’s diagnosis may not need as much day-to-day support as others on the spectrum.
Some adults may be autistic but undiagnosed. While it can be harder to receive an autism diagnosis as an adult, it’s not impossible — a diagnosis could also help you find support and understanding.
Asperger’s syndrome is no longer used as a diagnosis, but some people still consider it to be part of who they are. Whether you’re autistic or an Aspie (or both!), there are resources to help you feel accepted and connected.