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Understanding and comparison between Autism, ADHD, & Asperger’s.

Know the difference between these various terms.

As the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Asperger's overlap, there is often confusion and debate regarding the distinction between these three conditions. This article will include a description and an elaboration of the similarities and differences between the 3 conditions.

The information provided here has been updated according to the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM-5 is the standard reference and handbook that healthcare professionals use to diagnose mental and behavioural conditions. I hope that this article will clear up any misconceptions and confusion regarding the three conditions.

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

ASD is a developmental disorder that involves a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, restricted and repetitive behaviours, and deficits in speech and nonverbal communication. Do refer to our previous article titled “The Diagnostic Criteria and The 3 Levels of Autism” for a more detailed description.

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is a mental health condition in which individuals exhibit inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour that results in difficulties in their everyday life and tasks, such as interfering in their relationships with peers or leading to poor school grades. In our previous article titled “Autism Health: Conditions that accompany Autism”, it was mentioned that ADHD is distinctly different from ASD even though they share similar symptoms. In the DSM-5, ADHD and ASD are separate conditions. It was previously stated in DSM-4 that an individual cannot be diagnosed with both ASD and ADHD, however, they changed it in DSM-5. An individual diagnosed with ASD can also be concurrently diagnosed with ADHD.

  • Asperger's

Commonly known as the “high-functioning type of ASD”, Asperger's is no longer an official separate diagnosis on its own. As the symptoms listed for both were the same, albeit less severely, it became part of an umbrella diagnosis under ASD in DSM-5. This change has incurred much debate amongst health professionals as some believe that individuals with Asperger’s have distinctive symptoms that set them apart from those with autism.

For one, the greatest distinction between Asperger's and ASD is that individuals with Asperger's experience less severe symptoms and generally do not experience delays in the area of language (Autism Society, 2019). This will be further elaborated in the segment below.

Comparison of the three:

  • ASD and Asperger’s

Individuals with Asperger’s exhibit similar symptoms as those with ASD but of a lower severity. Those with Asperger’s may only be mildly affected and typically have normal or above average intelligence, and hence are commonly called the “high-functioning type of ASD”. However, what really distinguishes these two disorders is that individuals with Asperger’s frequently have good language skills and do not experience speech delays or impairments. While they do face difficulty understanding the subtleties of speech (e.g. humour, sarcasm, etc.), they generally are able to speak and enunciate clearly.

Similarities with ASD include having difficulty with social interactions due to not understanding the subtleties of language, or having unusual speech patterns (e.g. Have a rhythmic way of speaking, being too loud, etc.). Another similarity include having pervasive, absorbing interest in specific topics.

  • ASD and ADHD

As mentioned above, Asperger’s is classified under ASD in the DSM-5 as symptoms exhibited are similar. As such, I will simply make a comparison between ASD and ADHD.

Individuals with ASD experience challenges with social skills, communication and thinking. Repetitive behaviors are also part of ASD. Some behavioural traits that are common to children with ASD but not ADHD include: trouble understanding sarcasm, humor or irony, showing empathy, and making eye contact as well as deciphering other nonverbal communications such as facial expressions or body gestures.

On the other hand, individuals with ADHD may present with similar behaviours (e.g. trouble focusing and not reading social cues well, etc.), but this is due to their underlying difficulties specifically with attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. For example, children with ADHD find it difficult to focus, sit still, pay attention, and curb their impulsivity, which may lead to poor social skills, difficulty coping with studies and forming of relationships with peers.

I hope that this article has helped cleared up any misconceptions or confusion regarding ASD, ADHD and Asperger’s. The table below provides a summary of the points in this article. Drop us a comment if you want to add on any information or if you have any questions.

Written by: Winnie


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