Understanding Why Asperger’s Syndrome Is No Longer an Official Diagnosis

Asperger’s syndrome, also known as Asperger’s disorder or simply Aspergers, was an official diagnosis given to individuals on the autism spectrum until 2013. In May 2013, the term Asperger’s syndrome was removed from the diagnostic manual used by clinicians and researchers in the United States. This change understandably caused confusion for those who had been previously diagnosed or who worked with individuals with this particular autism diagnosis.

This article will cover the key details around this diagnosis change and explain:

  • Why the change happened
  • The characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome
  • The new approach to diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • The difference between Asperger’s syndrome and autism
  • Resources for support
Understanding Why Asperger's Syndrome Is No Longer an Official Diagnosis
Understanding Why Asperger’s Syndrome Is No Longer an Official Diagnosis

The Change in Diagnosis Criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome

So why did Asperger’s syndrome stop being an official diagnosis in 2013? Here is a look at the key reasons behind this change:

Push for Consistent ASD Criteria

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association released the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used by clinicians and researchers to diagnose individuals.1

One of the key goals with this new edition was to establish consistent diagnostic criteria across the autism spectrum. Previously, there were separate diagnoses given for autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

The DSM-5 authors wanted to eliminate this confusion and instead have one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This would more accurately reflect the scientific evidence that these disorders all exist on a spectrum and have similar underlying characteristics.2

Eliminate Stigma of Separate Asperger’s Diagnosis

Another reason Asperger’s syndrome was removed as a separate diagnosis was to avoid the misconception that it was an entirely different condition from autism.2 There was a common public perception that Asperger’s syndrome was a milder form of autism.

However, research showed that individuals with Asperger’s syndrome did not have less significant social communication challenges or repetitive behaviors than those with autistic disorder diagnoses. The only difference was in language development milestones.2

The authors of the DSM-5 wanted the public to understand that autism exists on a spectrum and includes individuals with a wide range of traits and support needs. Removing Asperger’s syndrome as a separate diagnosis was intended to reduce stigma.

Distance From Controversial History

Asperger’s syndrome was named after an Austrian pediatrician, Hans Asperger, who first described traits of this disorder in 1944. However, details later emerged about Asperger’s collaboration with the Nazi regime and involvement in the murder of disabled children.2

Many clinicians and organizations wanted to distance themselves from this shameful history by removing his name from the diagnosis terminology.

Key Characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome

Individuals who had previously received an Asperger’s syndrome diagnosis often share similar traits, even if the terminology has now changed. Here are some of the key characteristics frequently seen:3

  • Average or above-average intelligence and language development
  • Intense focus or interest in specific subjects
  • Socially awkward or inappropriate behavior
  • Difficulty with nonverbal communication like eye contact
  • Repetitive routines and resistance to change
  • Clumsiness or uncoordinated motor movements

While language milestones are typically on track, individuals may have challenges with back-and-forth conversation and making friends. They also tend to have narrow, intense interests about which they want to amass encyclopedic knowledge. Difficulty understanding social cues and rules may lead to inappropriate behavior.

Many people with Asperger’s syndrome are of average or high intelligence, particularly in their field of interest. However, they struggle with social awareness and communication.

The New Diagnostic Criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder

With the release of DSM-5, those who would have previously been given an Asperger’s diagnosis now receive a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, the DSM-5 does break down ASD into three levels to indicate varying support needs:3

  • Level 1: Requiring support
  • Level 2: Requiring substantial support
  • Level 3: Requiring very substantial support

Most individuals who would have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome under the old system fall into Level 1, requiring support.

Some of the criteria for Level 1 ASD include:4

  • Difficulty initiating social interactions and responding to social cues
  • Inflexible behavior that interferes with functioning
  • Problems with organization, planning, and switching between activities
  • Anxiety and difficulties coping with change

Levels 2 and 3 are characterized by more significant challenges with communication skills, restrictive/repetitive behaviors, and need for support.

While the diagnosis terminology has changed, the DSM-5 criteria still capture the traits and challenges experienced by those who would previously have gotten an Asperger’s diagnosis.

Key Differences Between Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism

Since Asperger’s syndrome is no longer a separate diagnosis, what exactly distinguishes it from autism? Here are some of the key differences that used to help differentiate the two:

  • Language development: Individuals with Asperger’s typically did not experience delayed language development like some children with autism. They reached speech milestones on time.5
  • Cognitive abilities: Many people with Asperger’s syndrome had average or above-average intelligence, while autism presented with a wider range of cognitive abilities.5
  • Motor skills: Children with Asperger’s were often physically clumsy or uncoordinated, whereas autism could involve both clumsy and overly graceful motor movements.5
  • Restrictive interests: People with Asperger’s frequently developed very intense, all-consuming interests about specific subjects they wanted to master. These were sometimes less common in autism.5

So in summary, the main distinguishing traits were in language development, cognitive skills, and the nature of restrictive interests. Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome tended to be more verbal, intelligent, and obsessive in their areas of interest.

Finding Resources and Support

While Asperger’s syndrome is no longer an official diagnosis in the DSM-5, many people still identify with the term. Here are some resources for those who previously had an Asperger’s diagnosis:

  • Connect with the autism community. Join online support groups and forums to exchange experiences and information with other autistic individuals and families. The Autism Society, Autism Speaks, and Autistic Self Advocacy Network are a few examples.
  • Seek counseling and therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), social skills training, and speech therapy can help develop strategies for communication, social awareness, and coping with anxiety.
  • Learn daily living skills. Occupational therapy, life skills classes, or hiring an assistant can help with skills like home and money management. Building these competencies promotes independence.
  • Ask about vocational rehab. Government vocational rehabilitation programs provide job training, interview coaching, and placement services for individuals with disabilities.
  • Explain the diagnosis change. If needed, educate loved ones, teachers, coworkers, and employers about how Asperger’s syndrome now falls under the autism diagnosis umbrella.

The removal of Asperger’s syndrome as a diagnosis was controversial and confusing for many on the spectrum. But connecting with the autism community and utilizing available support services can help overcome challenges and build a rich, fulfilling life.

In-Home ABA Therapy Provides Crucial Support for Autistic Children

Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy is considered the gold standard for helping children with autism spectrum disorder and related diagnoses manage challenges and reach their full potential. But finding an ABA therapy provider with availability for in-home sessions can be difficult for busy families.

That’s where Jade ABA Therapy comes in. Jade ABA Therapy provides world-class ABA therapy within the comfort of clients’ homes in Maryland and Washington D.C. Their experienced therapists have helped dozens of families see amazing growth and development in their autistic children.

How In-Home ABA Therapy Helps

Receiving ABA therapy at home offers many benefits for autistic kids and families:

  • Convenience: No driving to an office for appointments. Therapy takes place in a familiar setting.
  • Flexibility: Session times can be tailored around school, activities, and family events.
  • Customization: The home environment allows therapy to be individualized to focus on each child’s unique needs.
  • Generalization: Skills are easier to apply to real-world settings when initially learned at home.
  • Family Involvement: Parents and siblings can observe and participate in therapy activities.
  • Consistency: Strategies can be implemented beyond therapy sessions to reinforce progress.

Research shows that 30 or more hours per week of ABA therapy at home provides the best outcomes for autistic children. Jade ABA Therapy offers packages ranging from 10 to 40 hours weekly.

How Jade ABA Therapy Can Help Your Child

The experienced therapists at Jade ABA Therapy take an engaging, play-based approach to ABA therapy for kids. Some of the ways they can help your child thrive:

  • Increase functional communication and social skills
  • Reduce problem behaviors like tantrums or aggression
  • Improve focus, listening, and learning skills
  • Develop important self-care and daily living skills
  • Boost safety awareness, coordination, and fine motor skills
  • Build confidence, independence, and emotional regulation
  • Generalize skills to multiple home and community settings

Jade ABA Therapy collaborates closely with parents to develop customized treatment goals and track progress. Their positive reinforcement techniques help autistic children enjoy success.

Get Started with In-Home ABA Therapy in Maryland

If your child could benefit from ABA therapy, don’t delay. Call Jade ABA Therapy today at (410) 616-0901 to learn more and schedule your first appointment. Their team is standing by to answer your questions and get started helping your child gain skills, confidence, and independence.

You can also email them at info@jadeaba.org or visit www.jadeaba.org to learn more about their in-home ABA therapy services for families in Maryland and Washington D.C. They accept most major insurances, including Medicaid.

Help your child thrive with the proven benefits of ABA therapy conveniently within your home. Call Jade ABA Therapy today!


  1. Barahona-Corrêa, J.B., & Filipe, C.N. (2016). A concise history of Asperger syndrome: The short reign of a troublesome diagnosis. Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.02024
  2. Czech, H. (2018). Hans Asperger, national socialism, and “race hygiene” in Nazi-era Vienna. Molecular Autism, 9(29). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13229-018-0208-6
  3. Weitlauf, A.S., Gotham, K.O., Vehorn, A.C., & Warren, Z.E. (2014). Brief report: DSM-5 “levels of support:” A comment on discrepant conceptualizations of severity in ASD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(9), 2471-2476. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-013-1882-z
  4. Kennedy Krieger Institute Interactive Autism Network. (n.d.). DSM-IV criteria for Asperger’s disorder. Retrieved from https://iancommunity.org/cs/aspergers_syndrome/dsm_iv_criteria_for_aspergers_disorder
  5. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (n.d.). Autism spectrum disorder. Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Autism-Spectrum-Disorder-Information-Page
  6. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). DSM-5 diagnostic criteria. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/hcp-dsm.html
  7. Gamlin, C. (2017). When Asperger’s disorder came out: Psychiatry, transing and stigma in temporal context. Psychiatria Danubina, 29(Suppl 3), 214-218.
  8. Reed, G.M., First, M.B., Kogan, C.S., Hyman, S.E., Gureje, O., Gaebel, W., … Saxena, S. (2019). Innovations and changes in the ICD-11 classification of mental, behavioural and neurodevelopmental disorders. World Psychiatry, 18(1), 3-19. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20611
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