The term autism encompasses a number of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), including PPD-NOS (Pervasive Development Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified), Asperger's Syndrome, Rett Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. All of these are referred to as Austism Spectrum Disorders and can range from mild to severe.
Asperger's Syndrome is frequently referred to as a high-functioning type of autism although there is debate as to whether Asperger's is a separate condition or a type of autism. Some individuals initially diagnosed with autism will later fit the criteria for Asperger's Syndrome but if there was a speech and cognitive functions delay, would continue to be diagnosed with autism. Medical professionals sometimes have a hard time determining whether someone should be diagnosed with autism or Asperger's Syndrome.
A child with autism normally has developmental delays, they may start speaking late or not speak at all, although most people with autism do eventually use spoken language. Even those that don't use spoken language learn to communicate with the people around them. Some may use pictures or sign language to communicate.
Speech is one of the main differences between autism and Asperger's Syndrome. In the diagnostic criteria for Asperger's Syndrome, it states, "There is no clinically significant general delay in language (e.g. single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used by age 3 years). " Children with Asperger's Syndrome can be very verbal, displaying formal speech at a young age but their speech patterns may be unusual and they may speak in a monotone or a sing-song type of way.
Another area of difference is there is no severe delays in cognitive skills in children with Asperger's Syndrome as there can be in children with autism. Some areas where children with autism were found to be weak were: visuospatial coherence, false-belief understanding and executive functioning. According to the University of Illinois - Chicago, between 40 percent and 75 percent of individuals with autism have cognitive impairment with IQs less than 70.
Even though speech itself is not delayed, children with Asperger's Syndrome still have problems with communication. These children tend to have more interest in social interactions than those with autism, however, they still need to be taught basic social skills, such as recognizing facial expressions or looking someone in the eye when speaking and interacting.
Because autism is a spectrum disorder, individuals can have symptoms ranging from mild to severe. No two people with autism are exactly the same. There are, however, some commonalities:
- Appear withdrawn
- Resist change
- Repetitive language, saying the same word phrase over and over
- Ignore others when they speak to them
- Inability to start or maintain conversations
- Inability to read non-verbal body language or facial expressions
Those with Asperger's Syndrome may experience the same symptoms, but usually these symptoms are milder. Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome may want to interact and be extremely curious about their environment, but lack natural social skills. They must be taught the basics, such as what to say when you meet someone, the importance of looking at someone when you talk to him or her, to ask questions and listen to the other person, to not monopolize the conversation. Some people with Asperger's Syndrome go through life without ever being diagnosed because their symptoms are mild enough that they are considered "odd" or "eccentric" rather than having a disorder or disability.