Autism and Asperger’s: Are They Biologically Different?

While autism and Asperger’s syndrome are similar in some respects, a new study has found that there are significant differences between the two regarding brain connectivity. This study, conducted at Boston’s Children Hospital, used electroencephalography (EEG) recordings to compare and contrast brain connectivity in children with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and typically developing children. EEG’s are a popular and reliable method used to separate children with autism versus typically developing children. 400 children with autism and 550 typically developing children were the participants of the study.

Some areas of brain connectivity, for example the arcuate fasciculus in the brain’s left hemisphere (involved in language) showed similarities between children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome. However, other parts of the left hemisphere of the brain resulted in differences of activity, showing a stronger connection in children with Asperger’s than children with autism and typically developing children. The findings of this study lead the researchers to believe that autism and Asperger’s syndrome are physiologically different. But wait, according to the revised version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Asperger’s syndrome is now alongside autism under an “umbrella term,” autism spectrum disorders (ASD). [i] How can that be, if the two may be physiologically different?

The implications from this study are not concrete, as further studies should be conducted to see if there really are differences in the two developmental delays. Though not part of the study, Dr. James McPartland of Yale University, reflects,

“At present, it is hard to know whether [the new findings] reflect a core, intrinsic difference between Asperger’s and autism, or whether it is a reflection of developing with different characteristics.”

Still, this possibility needs to be remembered and taken into consideration. Many parents of children with Asperger’s syndrome fear that their child will not receive the proper therapy he or she needs, due to the revision in the DSM-5. Dr. Frank Duffy of the study at hand feels, “it’s essential to separate these two groups, because they need different education and training and opportunity.”



[i] “Fox News” Brain differences found between Asperger’s and autism. 5 Aug 2013. Web. < http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/08/05/asperger-and-autism-brain-differences-found/>

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