Asperger's Syndrome: Diagnostic Criteria, Facts, Treatment

Author: Thomas C. Weiss
Published: 2009/08/11 - Updated: 2022/07/30
Contents: Summary - Main - Related Publications

Synopsis: Aspergers syndrome is a developmental disorder that is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) a part of a distinct group of neurological conditions. Asperger syndrome is a form of autism often applied to people with a higher IQ who can have a less difficult time communicating with others and understanding concepts or phrases than other individuals with more severe autism. As of 2013, Asperger Syndrome is no longer considered a diagnosis on its own. Instead, patients are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which encompasses Asperger syndrome.

Asperger's Syndrome

Asperger's syndrome (or just Asperger's) is a developmental disorder. It is one form of autism spectrum disorder diagnosis (ASD). It causes impaired language and communication skills and repetitive or restrictive thinking and behavior. What is Asperger's syndrome? People diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome typically have high intelligence and no speech delays. However, they tend to play, learn, speak, and act differently from others. The condition is what doctors call a "high-functioning" type of ASD. This means the symptoms are less severe than other kinds of autism spectrum disorders. Doctors used to think of Asperger's as a separate condition. But in 2013, the newest edition of the standard mental health experts' classic book, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), changed how it's classified. Today, Asperger's syndrome is technically no longer a diagnosis. It is now part of a broader autism spectrum disorder (ASD) category. This group of related disorders shares some symptoms. Even so, lots of people still use the term Asperger's.

Main Digest

UPDATE: As of 2013, Asperger Syndrome is no longer considered a diagnosis on its own. Instead, patients are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which encompasses Asperger syndrome. Many people still use Asperger's as a term when referring to "high-functioning" individuals with autism. Still, it is not an official diagnosis.

Characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome include repetitive or restrictive patterns of thought and behavior. Unlike people with autism, people with Asperger's syndrome retain their early language skills. Perhaps the most distinguishing symptom of Asperger's syndrome is a child's obsessive interest in a particular object or topic to the point of exclusion of any other. A child with Asperger's desires to know everything about the topic they are interested in; their conversations with others involve little but their interest in that particular topic.

With a high vocabulary level and expertise on a subject, persons with Asperger's may come across as 'professorial.' Additional characteristics persons with the disorder have include repetitious rituals or routines, peculiarities in language and speech, emotionally or socially inappropriate behaviors, and an inability to interact successfully with others. They may also experience issues with non-verbal communication or be uncoordinated in their motor movements, appearing clumsy.

Children with Asperger's syndrome can experience a sense of isolation due to poor social skills and narrow interests. While they may approach others, their tendency towards either eccentric or inappropriate behavior or a desire to speak about a single interest might make conversation difficult.

Children with the disorder commonly have a history of developmental delays related to motor skills where things such as riding a bike, climbing outdoor equipment, or catching a ball are concerned. Their walk can appear stilted or bouncy and may be awkward or poorly coordinated.

Diagnosing Asperger's Syndrome

At this time, medical science is struggling to define exactly where Asperger's syndrome fits in the medical realm. Some professionals believe that it is the same as high-functioning autism, although others believe it is better described as a 'Non-verbal Learning Disability.

Asperger's has many of the same characteristics as Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Asperger's was relatively unknown not that long ago; many persons with the syndrome were initially diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder or ADHD, only to be re-diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. Some people who were diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder are now diagnosed with Asperger's, while others have a dual diagnosis of Asperger's and High Functioning Autism.

'Asperger's syndrome is a term used when a child or an adult exhibits some features of autism yet may not have a complete clinical picture. There is disagreement in the medical field regarding where Asperger's fits in the PDD spectrum. Some people with Asperger's are highly successful and were not diagnosed with anything but were viewed as eccentric, brilliant, socially inept, absent-minded, and a bit physically awkward.

While the criteria state no significant delay in language development, people with the syndrome may exhibit a different language use. Children with the disorder might have an excellent vocabulary yet not understand the nuances of language and have difficulties with language pragmatics. They may also experience weak social pragmatics, leading them to appear to be socially 'different.' When medical professional attempts to diagnose Asperger's syndrome, they consider several criteria. The criteria they take into account are as follows:

Diagnostic Criteria For 299.80 Asperger's Disorder

A. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:

B. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:

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 two years, communicative phrases used by age three years)

E. There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior (other than social interaction), and curiosity about the environment in childhood.

F. Criteria are not met for another specific Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Schizophrenia

Treating Asperger's Syndrome

Treating Asperger's syndrome ideally involves therapies that address three core symptoms of the disorder.

There is no single best treatment or package for every child or adult with Asperger's syndrome.

Most professionals agree that the earlier a person with the disorder receives treatment, the better. Effective treatment programs build on the person's interests, offer predictable schedules, teach tasks as simple steps, and actively engage the person's attention in structured activities. They also give the person consistent reinforcement regarding their behavior. The program can include cognitive behavioral therapy, social skills training, medication for any co-existing conditions, and additional measures.

Pursuit of effective treatment can give persons with Asperger's syndrome the ability to cope with the disability, but they can still find social situations and personal relationships difficult. Adults with Asperger's can often successfully work in mainstream jobs, even though they may need continued moral support and encouragement to maintain an independent lifestyle.

Social Aspects of Asperger's Syndrome

Persons with Asperger's experience difficulty reading nonverbal cues such as body language and often have trouble determining things like appropriate body space. They are often overly sensitive to tastes, smells, sounds, and sights.

People with Asperger's can prefer specific foods and soft clothes and may be bothered by lights or sounds nobody else appears to see or hear. They perceive the world differently, so it is important to remember that it is their neurological differences that cause these behaviors and not intentional rudeness, bad behavior, a lack of intelligence, or 'bad parenting.'

Persons with Asperger's syndrome have a regular I.Q. - many people affected by the disorder have exceptional skills or talents related to a specific area.

Due to their high degree of functionality and naivete, persons with Asperger's are often seen as odd or eccentric and may become the victims of bullying or teasing. Persons with Asperger's syndrome tend to be very literal and have difficulty using language in social contexts. During social interactions, persons with Asperger's may avoid another person's gaze and turn away from them, even as they greet the other person. While they want to interact with others, they have trouble knowing how to do so. They are capable of learning how to interact with others, much in the same way anyone else would learn a new skill.

While they may have a more difficult time doing so, adults with Asperger's syndrome can have relationships, families, and both happy and productive lives.

Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida. Explore Thomas' complete biography for comprehensive insights into his background, expertise, and accomplishments.

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Cite This Page (APA): Weiss, T. C. (2009, August 11). Asperger's Syndrome: Diagnostic Criteria, Facts, Treatment. Disabled World. Retrieved April 16, 2024 from

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