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Asperger’s can be harder to detect than autism because children with Asperger’s have an average (or higher than average) vocabulary. They often don’t show the early language development delays typical of children with autism. They also have normal IQ.

Children who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s disorder have trouble with social interaction, often misunderstanding social cues. At the same time, they might have highly developed language skills and can often communicate at great length on their favourite topics.

Changes to diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder

In May 2013, the criteria used to diagnose children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) changed.

Previously, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th edition) (DSM-IV) categorised children with ASD as having either autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder or PDD-NOS. The new version of the Manual, DSM-5, combines these three categories into one, which is simply referred to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The information in this article applies only to people who have been diagnosed using DSM-IV criteria. People who have been diagnosed using DSM-IV criteria will not be affected by the DSM-5 changes to diagnosis.

Asperger’s: common characteristics

As children, people with Asperger’s disorder, also called Asperger’s syndrome, are sometimes described as ‘little professors’. This is because they can be extremely knowledgeable about their favourite topics. They might also have advanced language skills for their age and might start discussions.

People with Asperger’s disorder often miss social cues and can misinterpret language. For example, they can have difficulty understanding jokes, or they might take things too literally. 

Checklist for signs of Asperger’s

Social interaction
Children with Asperger’s disorder might:

  • initiate interactions with others but have difficulty in sustaining social interaction
  • interact with people if they need something or to talk about something that interests them, but not for the sake of being social or out of genuine interest in others
  • 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 initiate 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.

Asperger’s disorder

Hear all about Asperger’s syndrome signs, symptoms and treatment.

What to do next

If you’re concerned about your child’s development, or your child already has an Asperger’s disorder diagnosis, the important thing is to get help and support as soon as possible. The sooner children get early childhood intervention services, the more effective these services can be in fostering positive outcomes.

Here are some places to start:

Video Finding and starting early intervention for ASD

In this short video, parents talk about finding and starting early intervention for their children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They share their experiences with interventions and tests.

As they note, there are many excellent resources and interventions available, but it’s important to choose interventions based on scientific evidence that work for your child.

  • Last updated or reviewed 26-08-2016
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with Cheryl Dissanayake and Cherie Green, Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, La Trobe University.