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Children diagnosed with Asperger’s disorder have trouble with social interaction and often misunderstand social cues. But they might also have highly developed language skills and can talk for a long time about their favourite topics.

Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is diagnosed according to a checklist in the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, the DSM.

In the past, the DSM categorised children with ASD as having Asperger’s disorder, autistic disorder or PDD-NOS.

The most recent edition of the Manual, DSM-5, was published in 2013. It changed the criteria used to diagnose children with ASD. DSM-5 combines the three categories into one, which is just called autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

If your child already has a diagnosis of autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome or PDD-NOS you can keep using these terms if you want to.

The information in this article applies only to people who have been diagnosed using criteria in the fourth edition of the DSM, DSM-IV. If you’re worried your child might have ASD, talk to your child and family health nurse or GP.

Asperger’s disorder: common characteristics

Children diagnosed with Asperger’s disorder don’t have intellectual disability, but they might have mixed abilities. For example, they might have strong verbal skills but poor non-verbal skills. They can also be very clumsy.

These children are often extremely knowledgeable about their favourite topics. They might have advanced language skills for their age and often start discussions.

But they often miss social cues and misinterpret language. For example, they have difficulty understanding jokes, or they might take things too literally.

And they usually don’t like change, preferring routines and rituals.

Signs of Asperger’s disorder: checklist

Social interaction
Children with Asperger’s disorder might:

  • start interactions with others but have difficulty keeping a conversation going
  • interact with people if they need something or want to talk about something that interests them, but not because they’re genuinely interested in other people
  • interact in an awkward and stilted way – for example, they might avoid eye contact while speaking or interpret things literally
  • interact more easily with adults than with children
  • not show emotion or empathy.

Communication and language
Children with Asperger’s disorder might:

  • be very verbal – for example, they might label everything in a room
  • join words together at the usual developmental stage (around two years)
  • communicate with others about their own interests
  • use a flat or monotone voice
  • answer questions, but not ask questions if the topic doesn’t interest them.

Repetitive or persistent behaviours
Children with Asperger’s disorder might:

  • have restricted or obsessive interests that make them seem like ‘walking encyclopaedias’ about particular topics
  • prefer routines and rules
  • not respond well to change.
If your child has a diagnosis of Asperger’s disorder, you’ll probably know about finding early intervention and support services. Support for many children will come from the National Disability Insurance Scheme as it’s rolled out across Australia.
  • Last updated or reviewed 21-09-2016
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with Cheryl Dissanayake and Cherie Green, Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, La Trobe University.