Which is Worse: Autism or Asperger's?

Both autism and Asperger's are neurological disorders that fall under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). While they share some similarities, there are also important differences between the two.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
December 13, 2023
min read

Understanding Autism and Asperger's Syndrome

To gain a clearer understanding of autism and Asperger's syndrome, it's important to explore how these conditions are defined and differentiate between them.

Autism Spectrum Disorders Defined

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) refer to a range of neurodevelopmental conditions that affect an individual's social interaction, communication, and behavior. These conditions are characterized by a broad spectrum of symptoms and varying degrees of impairment. ASD encompasses different diagnoses, including autism and Asperger's syndrome.

Differentiating Autism and Asperger's Syndrome

Autism and Asperger's syndrome are two distinct conditions falling under the umbrella of ASD. While they share similarities, there are several key differences that set them apart.

Autism is typically diagnosed in early childhood and is associated with significant challenges in social interaction and communication. Individuals with autism may exhibit repetitive behaviors, have difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication, struggle with changes in routine, and display intense interests in specific topics. Autism may be accompanied by intellectual disability or language delays in some cases.

On the other hand, Asperger's syndrome is considered a milder form of autism. Individuals with Asperger's syndrome often have average or above-average intelligence and do not experience significant delays in language development. They may have difficulty with social interactions, struggle with understanding non-verbal cues, and exhibit intense interests or hobbies. Unlike autism, individuals with Asperger's syndrome typically do not have significant delays in cognitive development or language acquisition.

While the distinction between autism and Asperger's syndrome has been made in the past, it's important to note that the diagnostic criteria have changed with the publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM-5 no longer includes Asperger's syndrome as a separate diagnosis but rather incorporates it under the umbrella term of autism spectrum disorder.

Understanding the characteristics, challenges, and strengths associated with both autism and Asperger's syndrome can provide valuable insights for parents and caregivers.

By recognizing the unique aspects of each condition, individuals and their families can better navigate the support and resources available to them. Whether it's seeking a diagnosis, exploring therapies and interventions, or finding parental support and advocacy, understanding the nuances of autism and Asperger's syndrome is crucial in providing the best possible care and support.

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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects individuals in various ways. Understanding the characteristics, challenges, and strengths associated with autism is crucial for parents seeking to support their children with ASD.

Characteristics of Autism

Autism is characterized by a range of challenges in social interaction, communication, and behavior. Individuals with autism may exhibit the following:

  • Difficulty in social interactions: People with autism often have difficulty understanding and responding appropriately to social cues, such as maintaining eye contact or engaging in reciprocal conversations.
  • Communication difficulties: Some individuals with autism may have delayed or limited speech development, while others may have difficulty understanding nonverbal cues, such as gestures or facial expressions.
  • Repetitive behaviors and restricted interests: Many individuals with autism engage in repetitive behaviors, such as hand-flapping or rocking. They may also develop intense interests in specific topics and have a strong need for routine and predictability.
  • Sensory sensitivities: People with autism may have heightened or decreased sensitivities to sensory stimuli, such as noise, light, or touch. This can lead to sensory overload or seeking specific sensory experiences.

It's important to note that the characteristics of autism can vary widely from person to person. Some individuals may have mild symptoms, while others may experience more significant challenges.

Challenges and Strengths

Individuals with autism face unique challenges that can impact their daily lives. These challenges may include:

  • Difficulties with social relationships: Establishing and maintaining relationships can be challenging for individuals with autism. They may struggle with understanding social norms, making friends, or interpreting social cues.
  • Communication barriers: Communication difficulties can impact an individual's ability to express their needs, wants, and emotions effectively. This can lead to frustration and difficulties in academic and social settings.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Sensory sensitivities can make everyday experiences overwhelming for individuals with autism. Loud noises, bright lights, or certain textures may cause distress or discomfort.

While individuals with autism face challenges, they also possess unique strengths and abilities. Some strengths associated with autism may include:

  • Attention to detail: Many individuals with autism have a keen eye for detail and can excel in tasks that require a high level of precision and focus.
  • Exceptional memory: Some individuals with autism have exceptional memory skills and can recall information in great detail.
  • Unique perspectives: People with autism often have unique ways of thinking and problem-solving, providing fresh insights and ideas.

Understanding the characteristics, challenges, and strengths of autism is essential for parents seeking to provide the best possible support and resources for their children. Diagnosis and early intervention, along with therapies and interventions tailored to the individual's needs, can make a significant difference in their development and overall well-being.

Asperger's Syndrome

Asperger's Syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder that falls within the autism spectrum. While individuals with Asperger's Syndrome share some similarities with those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there are distinct characteristics that set them apart.

Characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome

People with Asperger's Syndrome often exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Social Interaction: Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome may experience difficulties in social interactions and communication. They may struggle with understanding social cues, maintaining eye contact, and engaging in reciprocal conversations. While they may desire social connections, they may find it challenging to initiate and sustain relationships.
  • Restricted Interests and Repetitive Behaviors: Similar to individuals with autism, those with Asperger's Syndrome often develop intense and specific interests. They may become highly knowledgeable in their chosen subjects and exhibit repetitive behaviors related to their interests. These behaviors may include repetitive movements, adherence to strict routines, or a strong need for sameness.
  • Sensory Sensitivities: Sensory sensitivities are common among individuals with Asperger's Syndrome. They may experience heightened responses to sensory stimuli such as sounds, lights, textures, or smells. These sensitivities can result in discomfort or distress and may impact their daily routines and social interactions.

Challenges and Strengths

Asperger's Syndrome presents both challenges and strengths for individuals affected by it.


  • Social Challenges: The difficulties in social interactions can make it challenging for individuals with Asperger's Syndrome to form and maintain relationships. They may struggle to understand nonverbal communication, social cues, and the nuances of social interactions. This can lead to feelings of isolation and difficulties in navigating social environments.
  • Executive Functioning Challenges: Executive functioning refers to a set of cognitive abilities that involve planning, organization, and problem-solving. Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome may face challenges in these areas, making it difficult to manage time, prioritize tasks, and adapt to changes in routines.
  • Sensory Sensitivities: Sensory sensitivities can be overwhelming for individuals with Asperger's Syndrome. Loud noises, bright lights, or certain textures may trigger anxiety or discomfort, affecting their ability to engage in daily activities or participate in social situations.


  • Attention to Detail: Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome often possess a strong attention to detail and a focused interest in specific subjects. This can lead to expertise in their areas of interest and potentially contribute to their academic and professional pursuits.
  • Logical Thinking: Many individuals with Asperger's Syndrome exhibit strong logical thinking and problem-solving skills. Their ability to think analytically and objectively can be an asset in various fields, including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
  • Honesty and Integrity: Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome are known for their honesty and integrity. They often have a strong sense of right and wrong and adhere to principles and rules. This can make them reliable and trustworthy individuals in various settings.

Understanding the characteristics, challenges, and strengths associated with Asperger's Syndrome is essential for providing appropriate support and interventions.

Similarities and Differences

When comparing autism and Asperger's syndrome, it's important to recognize both the common traits and behaviors they share, as well as the key distinctions that set them apart.

Common Traits and Behaviors

Autism and Asperger's syndrome, both falling under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), demonstrate several similarities in terms of traits and behaviors. These may include:

  • Challenges in social interaction: Individuals with both autism and Asperger's syndrome may struggle with social skills, such as understanding social cues, maintaining eye contact, and engaging in reciprocal conversations.
  • Repetitive behaviors and interests: People with both autism and Asperger's syndrome often exhibit repetitive behaviors, such as hand-flapping or rocking, and show intense interests in specific subjects or topics.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Sensory sensitivities are common among individuals with both autism and Asperger's syndrome. They may experience hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to certain sensory stimuli, such as light, sound, touch, or taste.
  • Communication difficulties: Both autism and Asperger's syndrome can present challenges with communication. This may involve difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication, such as understanding tone of voice, gestures, or facial expressions.

Key Distinctions

While autism and Asperger's syndrome share many similarities, there are also key distinctions that differentiate the two:

  • Language development: Individuals with Asperger's syndrome typically develop language skills within the expected timeframe and may even have advanced vocabularies. In contrast, individuals with autism may experience delays or difficulties in language development.
  • Cognitive abilities: People with Asperger's syndrome often have average to above-average cognitive abilities. On the other hand, individuals with autism may exhibit a wide range of cognitive abilities, from intellectual disability to exceptional intelligence.
  • Severity of symptoms: Autism is generally considered to be more severe in terms of symptom presentation compared to Asperger's syndrome. Individuals with autism often exhibit more significant challenges across multiple domains, including social interaction, communication, and behavior.
  • Diagnostic criteria: In terms of diagnostic criteria, Asperger's syndrome was previously considered a separate diagnosis from autism. However, in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Asperger's syndrome is no longer recognized as a separate diagnosis. Instead, it is now categorized under the broader term of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Understanding the similarities and differences between autism and Asperger's syndrome is essential for effective diagnosis and support.

It's important to remember that every individual is unique, and the severity and manifestation of symptoms can vary widely within the autism spectrum. Seeking professional guidance and support can help in understanding and managing the specific needs of your child or loved one with autism or Asperger's syndrome.

Navigating Support and Resources

When it comes to autism and Asperger's Syndrome, accessing the right support and resources is essential for individuals and their families. Understanding the diagnosis process, available therapies and interventions, as well as parental support and advocacy, can greatly help in managing and improving the quality of life for those affected.

Diagnosis and Assessment

Obtaining a proper diagnosis and assessment is the first step in accessing support and resources for autism and Asperger's Syndrome. A comprehensive evaluation conducted by qualified professionals, such as psychologists or developmental pediatricians, can help determine the presence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and differentiate between autism and Asperger's Syndrome.

During the assessment process, various tools and techniques, including direct observations, interviews, and standardized assessments, are utilized. These assessments aim to evaluate social communication skills, repetitive behaviors, sensory sensitivities, and other characteristics associated with ASD. It's important to seek out professionals experienced in diagnosing and assessing autism and Asperger's Syndrome to ensure accurate results.

Therapies and Interventions

Once a diagnosis is obtained, individuals with autism and Asperger's Syndrome can benefit from a range of therapies and interventions. The specific interventions recommended may vary depending on the individual's needs and strengths. Some commonly used therapies include:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): ABA therapy focuses on improving social, communication, and behavioral skills through structured and individualized interventions. It often involves breaking down tasks into smaller steps and utilizing positive reinforcement.
  • Speech and Language Therapy: Speech and language therapy helps individuals with autism and Asperger's Syndrome improve their communication skills, including speech production, understanding language, and using non-verbal communication methods.
  • Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapy addresses sensory sensitivities, motor skills, and daily living activities. It aims to enhance an individual's independence and ability to participate in various environments.
  • Social Skills Training: Social skills training provides individuals with strategies and techniques to navigate social interactions effectively. It focuses on developing social communication, understanding social cues, and fostering friendships.

Parental Support and Advocacy

Parents play a vital role in supporting individuals with autism and Asperger's Syndrome. It is important for parents to access resources and support networks to better understand and navigate the challenges they may encounter.

Parental support groups and organizations provide a platform for sharing experiences, gaining knowledge, and connecting with others facing similar situations. These groups can offer emotional support, practical advice, and access to valuable resources.

Advocacy is another crucial aspect for parents of individuals with autism and Asperger's Syndrome. Advocating for their child's rights and needs within educational settings, healthcare systems, and the community can ensure appropriate accommodations and support are provided. Understanding the educational rights and options available is particularly important when seeking appropriate educational placements and individualized education plans (IEPs).

By navigating the support and resources available, individuals with autism and Asperger's Syndrome can receive the necessary interventions and support to lead fulfilling lives. Parents can play a vital role in advocating for their children and accessing the resources and networks they need to provide the best possible support and care.


Can a person have both autism and Asperger's?

No, a person cannot have both autism and Asperger's. As of 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) combined all subtypes of autism, including Asperger's, under one umbrella term: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Is there a cure for autism or Asperger's?

No, there is no cure for autism or Asperger's. However, with the right interventions and support, people with ASD can learn coping strategies to manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.

Are people with autism or Asperger's more likely to be violent?

No, there is no evidence to suggest that people with ASD are more likely to be violent than those without ASD. In fact, studies have shown that people with ASD are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

Can people with autism or Asperger's live independently?

Yes, many people with ASD are able to live independently with the right support and accommodations. However, some may require more support than others depending on the severity of their symptoms.

Can medication help treat symptoms of autism or Asperger's?

There is no medication that can cure autism or Asperger's. However, some medications may help manage specific symptoms such as anxiety or hyperactivity. It's important to consult a healthcare provider before starting any new medication.


In conclusion, the question of which is worse, autism or Asperger's, is not a helpful one. Both are neurological differences that affect people in different ways. Rather than focusing on which is worse, we should focus on providing support and accommodations for people with autism and Asperger's. With understanding, acceptance, and support, people with autism and Asperger's can thrive and reach their full potential.


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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