Asperger’s Syndrome Vs. Autism and Pervasive Development Disorders

Your child may have just been diagnosed or he is showing symptoms of an autism spectrum disorders and you now wonder, What is Asperger’s Syndrome? With a recent – or anticipated – diagnosis you are wondering where to turn. Perhaps you are trying to figure out what this will mean for your child and your family’s future. Here you can find an overview on what Asperger’s Syndrome is and what to expect in the future.

First of all, Asperger’s is an autism spectrum disorder. Autism is a developmental disorder than affects the way a child…or adult…interacts with, perceives and interprets the world. A spectrum means that there are many different forms of autism, ranging from very severe to very mild. Those on the more high functioning side usually get a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome.

Many children as well as adults may be misdiagnosed…this is unfortunately all too common. Many are initially diagnosed with ADHD or OCD or some other condition before a proper diagnosis is reached. This is unfortunate because it delays the start of effective training and treatments that can help someone with Asperger’s syndrome.

So what does this mean?

Social Aspects of Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s Syndrome is primarily a syndrome that has to do with deficits in social functioning. Someone with Asperger’s will have often have trouble both understanding language and using language in a proper way. They often have a pedantic style of talking, and are often referred to as “walking dictionaries.” People with Asperger’s are often very smart, and can talk about facts very easily, but have a lot of trouble with small talk or really any social connections at all, at least when they’re younger.

People with Asperger’s syndrome don’t tend to understand sarcasm or jokes, and take everything you say very literally…even when they are adults. They have very concrete thinking, and are very rule oriented. Those with Asperger’s often depend on routines to get through the day, and can be very upset if their routines are interrupted; children may have meltdowns while adults may get angry or autocratic. They are prone to emotional upset if something does not go right.

Due to their deficits in social skills, children and adults with Asperger’s syndrome often have trouble making friends. When they are kids, they will not understand the concept of playing with others. They will often do something called “parallel play” where they might play next to, but not with, another kid. They have to be taught to share toys and be flexible enough to play with another child. Adults can become very isolated after years of not being able to establish long-lasting friendships.

Obsessive Interests

The interests of children and adults often deviate from their peers, especially when they are older. Those with Asperger’s are often obsessive about specific subjects, such as geology, a particular sports team, or trains, and their peers find this uninteresting. This constant focus on one topic and lack of interest in topics that others bring up tends to isolate them further.

Obsessive interests are a main fabric of the cloth of Aspergers syndrome. Most kids with Asperger’s have something that they are very interested in and talk about it endlessly. One child might be obsessive about cars. Another “Thomas the Train”. A third with volcanoes. And so forth.

Because they are unable to truly show interest in a wide range of subjects that are of interest to their peers, they become social outcasts. This all contributes to the social isolation that is so common in kids with Asperger’s especially when kids start school. While their friends are talking about baseball or video games, the Aspergers child may exclusively talk about volcanoes. It doesn’t take long before his or her peers in school loose interest in both the subject of volcanoes AND in the child.

In an adult, the inability to show interests in general office politics or to chit-chat about sports or the latest TV shows can isolate a person from his or her colleagues. This lack of social integration may make the person with Asperger’s seem like an “odd duck” or just “not fitting in” which can lead to lay offs and lack of promotions.

Sensory Issues Are A Common Symptom Of Asperger’s Syndrome

People with Asperger’s syndrome often have a lot of difficulty with sensory processing. The typical person can usually tune out extraneous noise, smells and visual stimuli, among others. They do it without even thinking about it, because that’s the way their brain is set up.

People with Asperger’s syndrome, however, lack a “barrier” between their brain and the sensory onslaught of the world. They are far, far more sensitive to loud noises – or even soft ones no one else notices; to smells of all kinds…from what comes from your kitchen to the perfume of a passerby on the sidewalk. They often have trouble with the feeling and texture of clothing; with how tight or loose it is, and with the tags on the back. Visual stimuli can also be quite distracting. These sensory concerns need to be minimized for a child with Asperger’s to function in his or her environment, and their concerns need to be taken seriously. Many adults have difficulty holding a job because of the noise, distractions and overall sensory overload of a “cubicle farm” in which they must work. A co-worker tapping a pencil or bright fluorescent lights can overwhelm an adult with Asperger’s.

Fixation On Routine Is A Common Symptom Of Asperger’s Syndrome

Aspies (as those with Asperger’s syndrome are affectionately called) often fixated on a routine. Following a set routine is extremely common. And any change in routine may cause a meltdown. Yet stubbornly sticking to routine helps those with Asperger’s feel safe and grounded. Yet family, friends, and co-workers can feel that this fixation with routine is extreme. With kids, even small change in routine, like sitting in a different chair around the dinner table, can cause a meltdown.

A lot of children with Aspergers need to know exactly what will happen in order not to feel completely overwhelmed. A good tip is to ensure that you tell your child, in advance, if there will be any change in his or her routine (such as an upcoming vacation). A good strategy is to write down what you will do, where you will go, who will be there etc. Paint a picture in your loved one’s mind so that he or she can turn the future vacation into a routine before it occurs. The more your child understand what will happen and when, the more accepting he will be of the changes and the easier he will be able to handle the new experience.

Most adults learn to handle changes in routine…if for no other reason than the world around them is never predictable and they must learn in order to survive. Nevertheless, most adults with Asperger’s still feel much more comfortable following a routine. This lack of spontaneity can cause challenges in relationships…how many girlfriends want their boyfriend to always take them to the same restaurant? And once there to order the same diner time after time.

Good Things About Asperger’s Syndrome

While not a comprehensive list, these are the main and most common features of Asperger’s syndrome. Not to fear, though, not everything about having Asperger’s is negative. People with Asperger’s are often more likely to be unfailingly honest, loyal, and hard working. They are often very intelligent and can make great contributions…especially in fields that they are passionate about…when they are older. They have a unique way of looking at the world that can benefit all those around them.

Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, and some of the great thinkers of the world are suspected to have or have had Asperger’s. While many aspects of Asperger’s Syndrome will always remain a challenge, and while there is no question your child will have a more difficult path through the world than many others, always remember there is often benefit to thinking a little bit differently. When you think about a diagnosis of Asperger’s and its associated symptoms and wonder “What is Asperger’s” remember you have a choice about the way you look at it.

Once we understand how a child or adult with Asperger’s thinks, and understand that sensory issues as well as the need for routine motivate their actions, we can devise treatments and training to help them cope with an ever-changing world. Many treatments allow those with Asperger’s to succeed and thrive. Hopefully treatments can make life a little easier especially for those with Asperger’s and the people who love them. 

These are just a few of the answers you will need to successfully survive and thrive with Aspergers. To find information to help both children and adults with Asperger’s syndrome see our solutions page. Also ensure you sign up for the FREE  Asperger’s Syndrome Newsletter to gain additional information to help your loved one be happy and succeed in life.

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11 Responses to Defining Aspergers Syndrome Versus Autism and Pervasive Development Disorders

  1. Rick says:

    My son is almost 20 years old and has always had trouble socially when in a group setting. We had to pull him out of high school when he was 16 because he became too anxious in the class room and could not handle the tennis team even though he was one of the best players. He is okay one on one socially with people but as soon as there is more than two people he becomes very self conscious and insecure, and because of this does not make many friends.
    He has missed many family functions because of this, and even in a restaurant will position himself at the table so that strangers cannot appear to be staring at him.
    He has seen many psychiatrist, psychologist,theropist, and been on many different kinds of psychiatric drugs the last 10 years. He has been diagnosed with ADD,OCD,and Borderline Personality Disorder at different times during this period. It all started when his third grade teacher noticed he wasn’t making friends, and then projected into obsessive thoughts that he said he could not get out of his head. Strange thoughts like he was concerned with aging when he was in the seventh grade. Could this be a form of autism? He is just finishing 90 days in an intensive outpatient rehab progam getting DBT treatment but is not responding well to the treatment. He is being treated for Borderline Personaliy Disorder. Could he have been diagnosed incorrectly and thus be getting the wrong treatment. He finds these types of programs very difficult because he has to go to group sessions and live in a house with many other patients. Eventually he feels allinated and outcast because he cant handle the group situation he is basically living in. Is this the wrong method of treatment if he has Autism?

    • Marianne Bernaldo says:

      Hi Rick,

      It is tough to say whether or not he has Autism as Autism is also diagnosed along with OCD, mood disorders, and so forth. But from your post, it seems the group setting is a setting event for his social anxiety and perhaps placing him in any sort of group environments is a bit too much right now. From a behavioral perspective, I would try with small groups such as 2-3 individuals since he does well people 1:1 as a starter to slowly desensitize him to social situations so that eventually, he can be in a larger group environment.

      • Craig Kendall - Author says:

        Great response Marianne. Rick, one other thought. It is impossible to diagnose from the small amount of information you provided whether or not your loved one may or may not be on the autism spectrum. However, many people are misdiagnosed, especially if they have multiple issues–which unfortunately is all too common.
        You may want to focus on the long-term issue which is making a successful transition into adulthood.
        To successfully transition into adulthood your loved one needs to 1) be able to developing long-term nurturing relationships and 2) Get and keep a job.
        If your loved one can develop mature, lasting relationships one-on-one, ensure you focus there and let him practice and get good at this.
        Secondly, regarding a job, assuming that he never gets over his anxiety being around multiple people, what kind of job can he get and KEEP? Make sure you give this a lot of thought and guide him in a direction where he will be able to support himself financially. There are many jobs that do not require a person to be around others to perform the function successfully.
        Good luck.

  2. Penny miranda says:

    I have a highly functioning son thats 32 now and needs help.They are testing him for high functioning autism and aspbergers.I just pray to god everyday that he will take care of Josh cause we aren’t getting any younger.If anyone has information out there please pass it along.Thanks from the bottom of our hearts.

  3. amanda cole says:

    i have a nephew on each side of the family with different autisms and a son with ADHD/ODD and i feel that u can never have anough information. my youngest son is 19 months old and im concerned that he’sstarting some behavior that might need an early diagnosis…thank you for the information,it was very helpful and informative.

  4. Roberta Cohen says:

    I am worried over my son. He is asperger and he is 28 years old. I need help. I need you to find social events, meet friends in social and information for it and he is independent but my husband and I are worried that he always depend over us. search group of adult asperger condo etc.. please inform us more informations.

  5. Christie says:

    I hope this helps me with my son. I have a son that is ADHD and it’s been a difficult road. Now I have reason to believe my youngest son has Autism/Aspergers.

    • Wendy says:

      Christie, I am the mom of 6 children and my 5th child is somewhat “different” no diagnosis yet. Either way I just wanted you to know I will be lifting you up to the Lord and Praying he would give you the grace and patience with your children. And that he would provide for your every need.

  6. Jadean Roberts says:

    i hope this helps us with grandson

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