ASD versus Aspergers. Low functioning? High functioning? And level of Autism?

What do they mean? And why do different people use them interchangeably? Our Senior Occupational Therapist, Hayley Forbes talks about her take on ASD versus Aspergers, these labels and how to interpret them.

Clearing up the confusion around ASD versus Aspergers

So there used to be three disorders (when I was studying at Monash University): Pervasive disorder, Asperger’s and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Since the new DSM-5 has come out, people are now confused – why is it just Autism? There is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and there are levels of it (confusing!)

Personally, I do not see Autism as a negative label and I feel we all have spectrum-like traits, but people always have the conversation ‘they’re aspie’ or they have ‘ASD’.

Personally, I prefer the person before the diagnosis, and high and low functioning… Well actually, I believe all people have the ability to learn! Some may take longer than others so how do we actually know? So I vote we chuck out the term ‘low functioning'.

Lack of awareness around ASD versus Aspergers

I feel some people (and I don’t want to stereotype), that have not lived with any experience with Autism, claim people like Sheldon off the television show The Big Bang Theory are just Aspie and they claim it to many people of high intelligence.

But really, Autism is a spectrum. I try not to see either end of that spectrum as negative and at times I feel that people saying that ‘he or she is aspie’ are trying to make it seem that ‘Autism isn’t as severe’ when really, how do we know?

I don’t want to speak for people on the spectrum as I do not have a formal diagnosis but forgive me if I’m wrong. Having a diagnosis of Autism isn’t bad, or negative, and not having an Asperger’s diagnosis doesn’t mean that you aren’t smart.

And to people who have children who have ‘severe autism’: your children can learn, they can live a happy life. Sure, it has its challenges but having Autism isn’t bad or horrible. It’s a condition among others that should be embraced, treated with respect and guided by ‘all individuals have the ability to learn and to be happy’.

I believe more and more people are open about being Autistic, living on the spectrum etc. or prefer to call themselves ‘neurodiverse'.

Neurodiversity is a range

Some of the clients I have worked with show the range of neurodiversity:

  • Moderate Autism: unable to speak functionally, and uses an AAC system to communicate, current goals include functional typing, sensory regulation and to not abscond into traffic.
  • Severe Autism: to increase functional hand use to access communication iPad (AAC device).
  • Superior intelligence: IQ above 160, refusing to participate in school classes and unwilling to complete any handwriting tasks.
  • Intellectual disability and Autism: functional daily skills, i.e. folding clothes, making basic meals, writing shopping lists, understanding the concepts of money, etc.

It doesn’t matter what diagnosis they have, each individual has their own strengths and therapeutic goals. Just remember everyone is capable of learning and achieving their potential.

Questions about Autism and Asperger's?

Please don't hesitate to contact us – we're here to help and we would love to talk to you about your child or your specific situation.