Is there a difference between autism and Asperger's? What about being "on the spectrum"? Does this usually mean someone is high-functioning?


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Jenny Bristol, Homeschooling Parent, Writer, and Editor

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Is there a difference between autism and Asperger's? What about being "on the spectrum"? Does this usually mean someone is high-functioning?

It used to be that Asperger's was a different diagnosis from autism or high-functioning autism, but the most recent DSM manual has combined Asperger's in with autism as a diagnosis. Though some sources say that Asperger's and high-functioning autism are different diagnoses, in practice these days often the two terms are used interchangeably. It may depend on the professionals who determine the diagnosis.

If someone has Asperger's, generally they exhibit some of a group of symptoms or personality traits that fit the Asperger's profile, and generally they are a pretty high-functioning individual. Autism, as a term, describes a much broader spectrum of symptoms, and people with autism can range from very high-functioning to very low-functioning or anywhere in between.

Being "on the spectrum" just means that the person lies somewhere on the autism spectrum. It doesn't necessarily mean they are high-functioning. It could mean that they are low-functioning, or somewhere in the middle. It is an unspecific term.

I hope this helps!

Lisa Friedman, Inclusive Educator, Religious School Director, writer & speaker

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Hi there. Great question. Autism IS a spectrum disorder, so when you hear the expression "on the spectrum" this is what is being referred to. In addition, there are differences between the classifications of autism and Asperger's. In general, those who have been classified with Asperger's tend to be "higher functioning" than those classified with autism.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is now defined by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a single disorder that includes disorders that were previously considered separate — autism, Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.

The term "spectrum" in autism spectrum disorder refers to the wide range of symptoms and severity. Although the term "Asperger's syndrome" is no longer in the DSM, some people still use the term, which is generally thought to be at the mild end of autism spectrum disorder.

Hope this is helpful!

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