Autism verses Asperger’s – how to tell the difference!

When my assistants and students ask me the question – how do we know which adolescent has high functioning Autism and which one has Asperger’s, this is a simple way how I explain the difference between the two…

As both conditions resemble each other, they both have high intellect, they both have social integration and social interaction difficulties, both have sensory impairments, both have obsession etc…. telling the difference between the two can be difficult, this is how I explained the behaviour’s, to help my assistants and students clarify the difference between the two!

Autism is more likely to be the bullied and Asperger’s is more likely to be the bully!! It’s not fool proof, as nothing in this life is 100% concrete. There is always something else that complicates things and personal life experiences are unique to each individual. However, what I have found, in my years and years of experience is that, the Autistic child is more fearful and the Asperger’s is more fearless. An Autistic is more likely to experience things more sensitively, the Asperger’s is more likely to be insensitive! It’s not deliberate, well not as a child anyway.

Again, it’s not fool proof, however there is one fundamental difference that I have found blatantly obvious. The Autistic child will have a deep love towards his fellow animals and is more likely to enjoy outdoors and nature (emotional introvert) . The Asperger on the other hand is not so affected by animals or nature and tends to be more (mentally introverted), obsessive about a certain mental activity or eccentric as their odd behaviours are seen as quite different from the norm!

This doesn’t mean every one who enjoys outdoors and nature is autistic, just as it doesn’t mean every introvert is Asperger’s! It’s a guideline. 

Aside from sociopathy and psychopathy, there is a new diagnosis criteria that’s further convoluting these two disorders, and is growing in trend. These two conditions, where those who have experienced some form of trauma during development go on the be diagnosed as; Emotionally stable and Emotionally unstable? What I often observe prior to this diagnosis of EU or ES, is that both these personality disorders are born out of one of two other mental health conditions, namely Autism and Asperger’s.

Both conditions are subject to anger, or anxiety and this anger is observed clinically, as emotionally stable or emotionally unstable. Individual temperament is key here, so it isn’t fair to label one as more aggressive than the other!

When we add this disorder to someone who has experienced abuse, we find that their behaviour, or the reason for their admission into hospital, is due to the nature of their reactions expressed through their behaviour! And their behaviour, or reactions, are due to a learnt response from childhood!

Many people who have no diagnoses of either, go on to be assessed and diagnosed with a personality disorder, with the most popular diagnosis being emotionally stable (ES)  or emotionally unstable (EU) personality. Again it’s not concrete as their can be many other facets that inform diagnosis and guides diagnosis  to one of the other cluster criteria’s – cluster A or cluster C. So I’m not saying everyone with a personality disorder is Autistic or Asperger’s! I am explaining the different PD criteria and where the two conditions call under this social model of health.

As a rule, I tend to find Asperger’s in cluster A and Autism in Cluster C!  Again, it isn’t concrete as you need to have a full evaluation of the persons history, which can be complex in itself, especially if their is PTSD underneath!

So, In clinical observation, an Autistic person tends to present as more honest, obsessive and is likely to demonstrate emotionally unstable reactions, as they are more easily led, and react accordingly, whereas an Asperger’s persona, is more flat (poker faced) in affect and demonstrates an emotionally stable persona.

This is the difference between the two individual disorders! And they both express anger, only in different ways. One is more passive and acts behind the scenes, (I’ve interviewed many adolescents who smirk or show contempt when asked if they have fights with other children, the truth is revealed in their behaviour, body language and facial expression) Whereas the Autistic is more honest in expression and shows vulnerability.

Now apply this to personality disorders. Namely emotionally stable and emotionally unstable? How do you know which is which, by looking at the Autism and Asperger’s presenting behaviours, then evaluating this, which gives a clear pathway as to how the different individuals are likely to be diagnosed, with a personality disorder criteria?

This doesn’t make either of the two disorder’s a sociopath or psychopath, because these two disorders are affected by another psychological component, neglect and attachment, or lack of stable attachment!

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