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Outcome in High-Functioning Adults with Autism with and Without Early Language Delays: Implications for the Differentiation Between Autism and Asperger Syndrome



The question of whether Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism should be considered as the same or different conditions has been a source of debate and controversy over recent years. In the present study, 34 adults with autism who had shown early delays in language were compared with 42 individuals who were reported to have had no such delays, either in their use of words or phrases. All participants were at least 18 years of age, had a nonverbal IQ of 70 or above and met ADI-R criteria for age of onset, communication and social impairments, and stereotyped behaviors. Those in the language delay group were diagnosed as having high-functioning autism. The remainder were designated as having Asperger syndrome. The groups were matched for age, nonverbal IQ and gender. No significant differences were found between the groups either in their total ADI-R algorithm scores, or in their algorithm scores on individual domains. Social outcome ratings and ADI-R scores based on current functioning also failed to differentiate between the groups. Scores on tests of language comprehension and expression were also similar, but in both groups language abilities were well below chronological age level. The implications of these results with respect to the differences between Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism are discussed. The poor performance on language tests also challenges the assumption that early language development in Asperger syndrome is essentially normal.
several studies now suggest that if strict DSM/ICD cri-
teria are applied, a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome be-
comes unlikely, or even impossible (Eisenmajer et al.,
1996; Ghaziuddin, Tsai & Ghaziuddin, 1992; Manjiviona
& Prior, 1995; Mayes & Calhoun, 2001; Miller &
Ozonoff, 1997; Szatmari, Archer, Fisman, Streiner &
Wilson, 1995).
Wing, having been responsible for first bringing
Asperger’s original writings to the attention of clini-
cians in 1981, now expresses her concern that she may
have opened a “Pandora’s box” (Wing, 2000). Her orig-
inal intention, to emphasize the fact that there was no
evidence for a distinction between Asperger syndrome
and autism, has frequently been overlooked. Instead,
her account led to widespread research into the possi-
ble differences between the two conditions. Inadequate
group matchings, small samples, and, above all, lack of
The issue of whether autism and Asperger syn-
drome are different conditions (albeit part of the same
spectrum of disorders) has been a source of continuing
debate over recent years (cf. Klin, Volkmar, & Sparrow,
2000; Schopler, Mesibov, & Kunce, 1998). There is
also considerable disagreement about the validity of the
diagnostic criteria used in DSM-IV (APA, 1994) and
ICD-10 (WHO, 1992) to distinguish between the two
conditions, (Kim, Szatmari, Bryson, Streiner, & Wilson,
2000; Kugler, 1998; Leekam, Libby, Wing, Gould, &
Gillberg, 2000; Manjiviona & Prior, 1999). Indeed,
Outcome in High-Functioning Adults with Autism With
and Without Early Language Delays: Implications for the
Differentiation Between Autism and Asperger Syndrome
Patricia Howlin
The question of whether Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism should be considered
as the same or different conditions has been a source of debate and controversy over recent
years. In the present study, 34 adults with autism who had shown early delays in language
were compared with 42 individuals who were reported to have had no such delays, either in
their use of words or phrases. All participants were at least 18 years of age, had a nonverbal
IQ of 70 or above and met ADI-R criteria for age of onset, communication and social im-
pairments, and stereotyped behaviors. Those in the language delay group were diagnosed as
having high-functioning autism. The remainder were designated as having Asperger syndrome.
The groups were matched for age, nonverbal IQ and gender. No significant differences were
found between the groups either in their total ADI-R algorithm scores, or in their algorithm
scores on individual domains. Social outcome ratings and ADI-R scores based on current func-
tioning also failed to differentiate between the groups. Scores on tests of language compre-
hension and expression were also similar, but in both groups language abilities were well below
chronological age level. The implications of these results with respect to the differences be-
tween Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism are discussed. The poor performance
on language tests also challenges the assumption that early language development in Asperger
syndrome is essentially normal.
KEY WORDS: High-functioning autism; Asperger syndrome; long-term outcome.
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Vol. 33, No. 1, February 2003 (© 2003)
30162-3257/03/0200-0003/0 © 2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation
Department of Psychology, St. George’s Hospital Medical School,
Cranmer Terrace, London SW17 ORE, U.K.; e-mail: phowlin@
agreement on diagnostic criteria have meant that few
of these studies have produced any conclusive results
(c.f. Klin et al., 2000). Despite this, the differential di-
agnosis can have implications for services, with indi-
viduals diagnosed as having Asperger syndrome or
Asperger disorder sometimes being deprived of the
level of support that is offered to those diagnosed as
having autism (Klin & Volkmar, 2000; Department of
Health, 2001).
Current Research Evidence
A systematic search of the literature over the past
15 years, using the major databases (MEDLINE, Psych-
INFO, etc.) was conducted together with an additional
trawl of journals with a focus on developmental disor-
ders (Journal of the American Academy of Child and
Adolescent Psychiatry, Journal of Child Psychology
and Psychiatry, Journal of Autism and Developmental
Disorders, Autism, etc.), and recent collections of chap-
ters in edited volumes (Klin et al., 2000; Schopler et al.,
1998). Twenty-six separate studies were identified in
which a direct comparison between individuals with
high-functioning autism (HFA) (IQ 70) and Asperger
syndrome had been conducted and in which diagnostic
criteria and measures of IQ were adequately specified.
Tables I and II summarize these studies, indicating the
general areas investigated, the diagnostic systems used,
the number and ages of participants, and the general
conclusions of each.
Table I. Summary of Findings in Studies Comparing Individuals with Asperger Syndrome
and High-Functioning Autism Matched for Full-Scale IQ
Principal area of study, Author Age n
(and criteria for AS) Mean (range) HFA:AS Conclusions
General clinical characteristics
1. Szatmari et al., 1990 (Wing’s criteria)
2. Mayes & Calhoun, 2000 (modified DSM-IV)
3. Ozonoff et al., 2000 (DSM-IV)
Obstetric/early history and motor abnormalities
4. Szatmari et al., 1989 (Wing’s criteria)
5. Gillberg & Gillberg, 1989 (Gillberg criteria)
Neuropsychological and language profiles
6. Ozonoff et al., 1991 (modified ICD-10)
7. Klin et al., 1995 (modified ICD-10)
8. Ozonoff et al., 2000 (DSM-IV)
9. Rinehart et al., 2000 (DSM-IV)
10. Szatmari et al., 1990 (DSM-III)
11. Iwanaga et al., 2000 (DSM-IV)
12. Klin, 2000 (DSM-IV)
Behavioural and psychiatric disturbance
13. Szatmari, 1989 (Wing’s criteria)
HFA 23, AS14 yr
6.0 yr
13.5 yr
HFA 23 AS 14
10 yr
11–12 yr
15–16 yr
13.5 yr
10 yr
HFA 23, AS14
5–6 yr
19–20 yr
HFA 25 AS 14
HFA social impairments, language prob-
lems, stereotypies, and preoccupations
No difference on any of 71 variables (IQ,
language, symptomatology, motor
coordination, emotion or behavior)
HFA ADI scores at 4; few differences in
current scores. No differences in social
functioning. AS special interests;
HFA insistence on sameness
HFA early abnormalities in social,
language, and behavior
AS clumsy
AS VIQ, and VIQ-PIQ difference.
AS verbal memory, executive function
& TOM scores. HFA CARS scores
HFA PIQ and better motor skills; AS
VIQ and higher verbal ability
Few differences but AS VIQ-PIQ differ-
ences; HFA expressive problems. No
differences on executive function/TOM
HFA problems in shifting attention
Few differences in IQ profiles, motor, or
other test scores
No significant differences on gross or fine
motor tasks, and most nonverbal tests.
AS HFA on some verbal tasks
No differences on social attribution task
HFA bizarre preoccupations; AS?
psychiatric problems
The majority of participants were children, with only
three research groups including any adults (Gilchrist,
Green, Cox, Rutter & Le Couteur, 2001; Klin, 2000;
Szatmari et al., 1989, 1990, 1995). In many cases strict
DSM-IV criteria for Asperger disorder were not used,
principally because, as noted above, if the hierarchical
guidelines proposed by ICD-10 or DSM-IV/DSM-
IV(TR) (APA, 1994, 2000) are followed, only a small
proportion of cases then meet the necessary criteria. In-
stead, this label tended to be used for individuals who,
Implications for the Differentiation Between Autism and Asperger Syndrome 5
although often meeting criteria for autism, had not
shown early language delays. Moreover, many of the
studies reviewed failed to match participants with As-
perger syndrome and those with HFA on the basis of IQ.
Thus the reported differences between the groups could
be due to cognitive disparities rather than a true diag-
nostic differentiation. Table I summarizes the findings
of 10 separate investigations in which participants were
matched for full-scale IQ (three studies cover several
different areas and are listed more than once). The find-
Table II. Summary of Findings in Studies Comparing Individuals with Asperger Syndrome
and High-Functioning Autism (AS Groups Higher IQ)
Principal area of study, Author Age n
(and criteria for AS) Mean (range) HFA:AS Conclusions
General clinical characteristics
1. Szatmari et al., 1995 (modified ICD-10 criteria)
2. Eisenmajer et al., 1996 (clinical diagnosis)
3. Kurita, 1997 (ICD-10)
4. Gilchrist et al., 2001 (ICD-10)
Obstetric/early history and motor skills
5. Ghaziuddin et al., 1994 (ICD-10)
6. Ghaziuddin et al., 1995 (ICD-10)
7. Ghaziuddin & Butler, 1998 (DSM-IV/ICD-10)
8. Manjiviona & Prior, 1999 (modified ICD-10)
Neuropsychological and language profiles
9. Ghaziuddin & Gerstein, 1996 (ICD-10)
10. Ehlers et al., 1997 (Gillberg criteria)
11. Pomeroy, 1998 (non-language impaired PDD)
12. Manjiviona & Prior, 1999
(Modified/strict DSM-IV)
13. Miller & Ozonoff, 2000 (DSM-IV)
Behavioural and psychiatric problems
14. Ghaziuddin et al., 1995 (ICD-10)
15. Tonge et al., 1999 (DSM-IV)
16. Kim, 2000 (modified DSM-IV))
5 yr
10 yr
5–6 yr
HFA 21 yr;
AS 14 yr
12–13 yr
13–14 yr
10–11 yr
11 yr
15–16 yr
10 yr
7–8 yr
10–11 yr
10 yr
12 yr
AS 9.9; HFA
7.4 yr
12 yr
HFA social and adaptive problems,
rituals and early language delays. No
differences in current nonverbal/
communication/motor skills
Few differences on any variables;
delayed language only significant
differences in HFA group
Few significant differences but HFA
on some CARS items
HFA ADI problems age 4–5 yrs. No
difference in current functioning on
No significant differences in motor
No significant differences in neonatal
optimality scores
No significant differences in motor
skills when IQ controlled for
AS PIQ but no differences in motor
AS pedantic speech
Diffs in cognitive profiles; AS higher
scores on most subtests
AS VIQ; also language compre-
hension and expression
AS VIQ no difference on neuropsy-
chological profiles
No significant differences in motor
skills, executive function or TOM
when IQ co-varied
AS disorganized thought; few other
significant differences
AS psychopathology
No differences in
ings are variable. Of five reports on early history and
general clinical characteristics, three (studies 1, 3, and
4 in Table I) suggest higher rates of problems in HFA
groups. However, these differences were not necessar-
ily maintained as children grew older (study 3). There
was greater evidence of special interests in the Asperger
group, whereas insistence on sameness was more com-
mon in the autism group (study 3). Only one study
(no. 5) found evidence of increased clumsiness in in-
dividuals with Asperger syndrome. Of seven studies
examining neuropsychological or linguistic function-
ing, four (nos. 6, 7, 8, and 11) reported higher verbal
skills in the Asperger groups. There were few differ-
ences in scores on tasks of social understanding, The-
ory of Mind or executive function (nos. 8 & 12) and
those that were found may have been related to higher
verbal skills in the Asperger group (no. 6). Rates of
psychiatric disturbance did not differ markedly al-
though individuals with HFA tended to show more
bizarre pre-occupations (no. 13).
Table 2 summarises the findings of sixteen sepa-
rate studies in which the Asperger syndrome groups
were of higher overall IQ than the Autism groups. Of
eight with a focus on early history, general clinical
severity or motor problems, five reported few differ-
ences. Ghaziuddin and Butler (1998; no. 7) identified
more motor difficulties in their HFA group, but the dif-
ference disappeared when IQ was controlled for and
both groups were relatively impaired compared to pop-
ulation norms. The results of Szatmari et al. (1995,
no. 1) suggested that early group differences in lan-
guage abilities diminished over time. Similarly,
Gilchrist et al. (2001, no. 4) found that initial differ-
ences in symptom severity tended to decline with age
and although there were differences on ADI scores in
early childhood (with the HFA group showing more
difficulties) there were no significant differences in
adolescence and early adulthood. Of five reports on
neuropsychological and linguistic functioning, the
Asperger groups generally showed superior verbal
skills. However, such differences disappeared when
IQ was controlled for (no. 13). In the area of
behavioural/psychiatric disturbance two studies (14
and 15) found evidence of increased pathology in the
Asperger groups but this was not found in study 16.
Overall, there appears to be no consistent evidence
that there are any major differences in rates of social,
emotional and psychiatric problems, current sympto-
matology, motor clumsiness or neuropsychological pro-
files between the two groups. Moreover, there are
suggestions that group differences found in early child-
hood may decrease with age (Gilchrist et al., 2001;
Ozonoff, South, & Miller, 2000; Szatmari et al., 1995).
Several studies do, however, suggest that even if chil-
dren are matched on full-scale IQ, the Asperger groups
have better developed verbal skills in certain areas.
The fact that individuals with autism who, by defini-
tion, are significantly delayed in their language de-
velopment continue to show poorer linguistic skills
than those with Asperger syndrome (who, by definition,
are not delayed) is perhaps not surprising (Szatmari,
2000). However, because few studies have examined
differences in these groups beyond mid adolescence,
it is possible that the apparent linguistic superiority of
the Asperger groups might reduce with age. The pre-
sent paper, therefore, focuses on differences in older
individuals, all aged 18, and all with a nonverbal IQ
of at least 70.
The three main questions posed were:
1. Do high-functioning adults with autism (IQ
70) who showed early language delays dif-
fer in their early symptomatology (as assessed
by parental report) from those with no early
language delays?
2. Do ADI-R scores (current and retrospective) for
social, communication, and ritualistic/stereo-
typed behaviors indicate differences between the
3. Are there other differences with respect to so-
cial and linguistic functioning between the two
groups in adulthood?
The participants in the study were selected from
patients attending a specialist diagnostic and assess-
ment clinic for adults with developmental disorders.
All had been referred by their local services (family
doctors, social or psychiatric services) because of in-
dications that they had an autistic spectrum disorder.
Some had been diagnosed with an autistic spectrum
disorder when younger, but many had not and they or
their parents were generally seeking a formal diagno-
sis or clarification of an earlier diagnosis. All indi-
viduals who met the following criteria were included
in the study:
Diagnosis of autism or Asperger confirmed on
the basis of the ADI-R (conducted by the au-
thor), plus previous clinical records, contempo-
raneous reports, and assessment of current
18 years or older
Nonverbal IQ within the normal range (i.e., 70)
Cognitive and Linguistic Tests
Nonverbal IQ scores were obtained either from the
Raven’s Matrices (Raven, 1956), the Wechsler Adult
Intelligence Scale (WAIS-R or WAIS-III, Wechsler,
1981, 1997), or the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of In-
telligence (WASI; Wechsler, 1999). Comprehension for
single words was assessed using the British Picture Vo-
cabulary Scale (Dunn, Dunn, Wetton, & Burley, 1997;
Dunn, Dunn, Whetton, & Pintillie, 1982) and vocabu-
lary by the Expressive One Word Picture Vocabulary
Test (Gardner, 1982). Although these are among the
very few tests that are available for assessing language
beyond middle childhood, most individuals were, nev-
ertheless, above the chronological age ceiling and hence
a standard score could not be calculated. Age equiva-
lent scores were therefore used as an alternative, and
for those scoring above the maximum a randomized age
equivalent was assigned (see Mawhood, Howlin, &
Rutter, 2000). In addition, because of the problems in-
herent in deriving age-equivalent scores in this way,
ratings of language level were used (0 above test
ceiling; 1 15 yr to ceiling; 2 12–14.9 yr; 3
10–11.9 yr; 4 8–9.9 yr; 5 ⫽⬍8yr).
ADI-R Scores and Group Classification
A detailed developmental history was obtained for
all participants by means of the ADI-R (Lord, Rutter,
& Le Couteur, 1994). In the majority of cases the in-
formants were parents (usually the mother), although
in three cases siblings provided the information and one
informant was a stepmother (she had also been the
person’s childminder when he was tiny). ADI-R algo-
rithm scores for impairments in communication, reci-
procal social interaction, and repetitive and stereotyped
behaviors/interests, together with the total score for all
three domains were calculated for each individual. Rat-
ings of fine and gross motor coordination were also
obtained from the ADI-R, because problems in these
areas are often noted as being more frequent in people
with Asperger syndrome (Volkmar & Klin, 2000).
Out of a total of 76 individuals meeting inclusion
criteria, 34 (25 men, 9 women) were reported by the
informant to have shown definite delays in language as
defined by the ADI-R (i.e., no single word speech by
24 months age and/or no phrase speech by 3 years). All
individuals in this group were diagnosed as having autism
Implications for the Differentiation Between Autism and Asperger Syndrome 7
in that they scored at or above the cut off for abnormal-
ities on each of the domains (communication, social un-
derstanding, stereotyped behaviors, and age) assessed by
the ADI-R. Forty-two individuals (35 men, 7 women)
who also met full ADI-R criteria were reported to have
had no delays, either in their use of words or phrases.
Although individuals in this group would not meet cur-
rent DSM-IV criteria for Asperger disorder, for the pur-
pose of the present comparison, and in keeping with
other recent studies (Kim et al., 2000; Manjiviona &
Prior, 1999; Szatmari et al., 1995) they were designated
as having Asperger syndrome. There was no signifi-
cant difference in the age of individuals in the two
groups (average age in the autism group, 27.6 yr, SD
10.0 yr; in the Asperger group, 26.1 yr, SD 5.9 yr; t
80, p.43). The ratio of males to females in the autism
group was 1.0:2.8; in the Asperger group it was higher
at 1.0:5.0 but the difference was not significant (X
1.09; p.29).
Note that because of the number of comparisons
conducted, only p levels .01 were considered signif-
icant. Table III summarizes the characteristics of both
groups with regard to age of first symptoms, early lan-
guage development, and ADI-R algorithm scores.
The age at which parents first noted symptoms of
abnormal development was somewhat earlier in the
autism group but the level of significance was marginal
(see Table III). However, there was a significant dif-
ference in parental reports of the types of symptoms
that first gave rise to concern. In the autism group, the
most commonly reported early signs were language
problems (32%); problems or delays in motor devel-
opment (23.5%); social abnormalities (23.5%), and
general behavior difficulties (15%). Only one parent in
this group cited repetitive and stereotyped behavior pat-
terns as being the initial cause for concern. In the As-
perger group, parents’ initial concerns focused on
general behavior problems (29%); repetitive and stereo-
typed behaviours/interests (21%); motor difficulties/
delays (19%); social abnormalities (19%), and language
(12%). (X
11.82; p.037). Information on first
symptoms was missing for one individual in the Autism
group who had been adopted.
Although all informants were able to recollect
whether or not the individual had shown language de-
lays (i.e., words by 2 years and phrases by 3 years) not
all were able to give the actual age of speech acquisi-
tion. For those on whom this information was avail-
able, the average age of first words in the autism group
was 38 months compared to 15 months in the Asperger
group. The average ages for first phrases were 52 and
26 months, respectively. (see Table III). All partici-
pants had some speech when assessed as adults, but in
the autism group the latest age at which words were ac-
quired was 72 months; for phrases, the latest age was
84 months. In the Asperger group the latest ages of
acquisition were 24 months for words and 30 months
for phrases.
ADI-R algorithm scores confirmed that, despite
the late age at which the diagnostic assessment was
conducted, all individuals met criteria for communica-
tion and social impairments and for ritualistic/stereo-
typed behaviors. There were no significant differences
between the groups, either in their total ADI-R algo-
rithm score or in their algorithm scores on the individ-
ual domains (see Table III). ADI (“ever”) ratings for
problems in gross and fine motor skills did not differ
between groups. (Median: autism group 0; Asperger
group 1.0; Mann Whitney Z 1.43; p.15).
Differences in present functioning were also ex-
amined, using standardized tests, “Current”
from the ADI algorithm and information pertaining to
jobs, relationships, and independent living. As is ap-
parent from Table IV, there were no group differences
in nonverbal IQ, and scores on the ADI-R domains
were almost identical.
From Table IV it can also be seen that there were
no significant group differences in the numbers of peo-
ple living independently, in ratings of current friend-
ships, or in employment levels, although the propor-
tion of individuals with Asperger syndrome in some
form of employment (sheltered or independent) was
higher than in the autism group (38% vs. 52%). The
one social variable for which a significant difference
was found was educational qualifications. Significantly
more individuals in the Asperger group had obtained
at least A level qualifications (i.e., the level required for
university entry) than in the autism group (24% vs.
52%). Median scores for current ratings of clumsiness
(fine and gross) did not differ.
Ten individuals in the autism group were described
by their referring agency as having additional psychi-
atric problems (8 depression, one alcohol dependency,
and one agoraphobia). No further mental state examina-
tion was conducted during the present assessment and
hence psychiatric diagnoses could not be confirmed.
However, for one of these individuals with a depressive
disorder the “Current” section of the ADI-R could not
be completed because his depression was so severe as to
have significantly altered his typical pattern of func-
tioning. In the Asperger group, 7 individuals were de-
scribed as suffering from depression (one with co-morbid
obsessional compulsive disorder [OCD] and one with co-
morbid anorexia); one man had a diagnosis of OCD, and
one had been treated for a psychotic illness in the past.
On tests of current linguistic functioning, age-
equivalent scores for language comprehension and ex-
pression were slightly higher in the Asperger group but
the difference was not significant. Only on ratings for
language expression (based on overall age band reached)
was there a marginally significant difference, in favor
of the Asperger group (see Table IV).
Table III. Comparison Between Asperger and High-Functioning Autism Groups on Early Childhood Measures
Autism (n 34) Asperger (n 42)
Group Mean SD Mean SD t pvalue
Age first signs 15.01 months 13.21 21.27 months 12.9 2.03 .046
Age first words
37.82 months 14.01 14.63 months 6.16 6.77 p .001
Age first phrases 52.07 months 16.04 26.21 months 11.53 5.98 p .001
ADI-R algorithm scores
ADI total 40.29 8.38 37.83 8.21 1.28 .20
ADI social 18.79 5.06 18.38 4.82 .36 .72
ADI communication 15.64 3.22 14.19 4.10 1.69 .09
ADI stereotypies 5.85 1.59 5.26 1.53 1.64 .11
Good estimates of age for first words/phrases available for 29 in the autism group, 19 in the Asperger group;
t values given for unequal variances.
For all ADI ratings, the higher the score the more abnormal the behavior.
These are similar to the items included in the diagnostic algorithm
but exclude items for which there are only childhood ratings, that
is, direct gaze, spontaneous imitation, play (imaginative, imitative
and group), interest in/response to other children.
The findings of this comparison between 34 adults
with autism and 42 designated as having “Asperger syn-
drome,” matched for age and nonverbal IQ, indicate that
parents do report certain differences between the groups
when they are younger. Because participants were as-
signed to the two groups on the basis of their early lan-
guage development, the fact that there were significant
differences in the age at which they first used words or
phrases is a consequence of group selection. This method
of sample selection would also explain why parents of
children with autism were more concerned about lan-
guage delays initially. However, there were also several
other differences.
Children with Asperger syndrome tended to be
older when parents first noted abnormalities in their de-
velopment (average age 21 months as compared to an
average of 15 months in the autism group) and their
parents’ first concerns were split fairly evenly between
general behavior problems, ritualistic and stereotyped
behaviors/interests, and motor delays/difficulties. In the
autism group, social difficulties and motor delays were
(after language delays) the problems most likely to give
Implications for the Differentiation Between Autism and Asperger Syndrome 9
rise to early concerns. Only one parent in this group
remembered ritualistic/stereotyped behaviors as being
the most prominent symptoms in the first 3 years (cf.
Howlin & Asgharian, 1998).
However, ADI-R algorithm scores for social and
communication difficulties, which are based largely
(although not exclusively) on children’s difficulties in
these areas when they are somewhat older (4–5 years)
suggested that these early differences may have de-
creased over time. Thus, no significant group differences
were found on the ADI-R algorithm scores for impair-
ments in social or communication skills. Moreover, rat-
ings for ritualistic/stereotyped patterns of behavior or
interests (which are based on whether the behavior has
ever occurred) did not differ between the groups. The
suggestion that early differences may decrease with age
is also supported by the findings of recent studies
(Gilchrist et al., 2001; Ozonoff et al., 2000; Szatmari
et al., 1995). In the Gilchrist study, for example (al-
though participants differed in age and full-scale IQ),
the significant group differences in ADI scores at age
4–5 years had disappeared by adolescence or early adult-
Motor clumsiness (based on ADI “ever” and “cur-
Table IV. Comparison Between Asperger and High-Functioning Autism Groups on Measures of Adult Func-
Autism (n 34) Asperger (n 42)
Group Mean SD Mean SD t pvalue
Nonverbal IQ 100.06 16.79 101.50 18.38 .11 .91
Current ADI ratings
ADI total 24.68 7.25 23.58 5.91 1.29 .20
ADI social 11.09 3.71 11.51 3.75 .36 .72
ADI communication 8.77 3.47 7.98 2.62 1.69 .09
ADI stereotypies 4.81 1.82 4.09 1.48 1.64 .11
Social functioning
Education: n with A level 8 22 6.55 .01
qualifications or above
Jobs: n in employment 13 23 1.25 .26
Living: n semi/independent 11 15 .09 .76
Friendships: n with some friends 13 17 .04 .84
Language scores
BPVS age equivalent
15.16 yr 4.11 16.09 yr 4.17 .91 .37
BPVS rating
1.59 1.37 1.40 1.52 .51 .61
EOWPVT age equivalent 15.40 yr 3.52 16.60 yr 2.63 1.54 .13
EOWPVT rating 1.38 1.24 .82 .79 2.15 .04
Excludes 6 individuals in the autism group and 4 in the Asperger group who were still at college.
BPVS/EOWPVT age scores based on 29 individuals in the autism group and 35 in the Asperger group.
BPVS/EOWPVT ratings based on age bands on tests; see text for details. Lower ratings higher level.
rent” ratings) failed to show any difference between the
groups in the present study, although this is one area that
has frequently been claimed to characterize individuals
with Asperger syndrome (cf. Volkmar & Klin, 2000).
Assessments of current functioning also failed to
reveal major differences between the two groups. The
number of individuals with an additional psychiatric di-
agnosis was similar in both groups, and although these
diagnoses were not independently confirmed, depressive
disorders appeared to be the most common. “Current”
ADI-R ratings for social functioning, communication,
and ritualistic/stereotyped behaviors were remarkably
similar, and outcome in terms of friendships, employ-
ment, and independent living did not differ. Only two
individuals in the Asperger group and three in the autism
group were reported to have developed friendships that
involved closeness and sharing of emotions, although a
higher number (10 with autism, 15 with Asperger syn-
drome) did have acquaintances whom they met outside
home or work. Three men (2 autistic, 1 Asperger) were
married or living with a partner, and one of the mar-
ried men in the autism group had children. One woman
in the Asperger group was divorced. The majority in both
groups (19 with autism, 26 with Asperger syndrome) still
lived with their parents and of those who did live inde-
pendently most (7/11 in the Autism group; 9/15 in the
Asperger group) continued to require support either
from their families or social services. Three people with
autism and one with Asperger syndrome were in spe-
cialist residential provision, and one man with autism
was in a extended-care psychiatric hospital. In terms of
employment, 15 individuals in each group had never
had a job, and only 2 in each group had relatively well-
paid, permanent employment. Three individuals in each
group were in sheltered placements or worked with a
family firm; the remainder was in short-term, low-pay,
or voluntary posts that did not provide them with suf-
ficient money to live independently. The only area in
which a significant group difference emerged was in
academic attainments. Although the numbers without
any formal qualifications were similar (8 in the As-
perger group, 9 in the autism group) eight individuals
in the Asperger group had a university degree (4 of
these at postgraduate level) and a further 14 had ob-
tained some formal qualifications at sixth form level (A
levels or equivalent). In the autism group only 2 people
had a degree (none at postgraduate level) and 6 others
had A levels or equivalent. However, this advantage in
terms of academic attainments did not seem to have re-
sulted in higher levels of achievement in later life.
Adult assessments of language comprehension and
expression also showed some superiority for the As-
10 Howlin
perger group, although the differences were generally
small and only (marginally) significant for the ratings
based on their scores on the Expressive One Word
Picture Vocabulary (EOWPVT). The marked delays in
language experienced by those in the autism group as
children (several of whom did not begin to use words
until they were over 4 years or phrases until they were
5 or older) may mean that they remained at a dis-
advantage in their ability to “catch up” linguistically.
Thus the small differences found here may not represent
a true diagnostic “splitting” between the groups.
Rather, they could be due principally to the initial
severity of language problems, which then leads, as
Szatmari (2000) suggests, to the individuals in each
of the two groups following somewhat different tra-
jectories over time.
The language test results also raise further problems
in terms of the validity of the distinction between autism
and Asperger syndrome. Thus, although the latter con-
dition is, by definition, not associated with early lan-
guage delays, the present study indicated that language
skills in adulthood were often far from age appropriate.
The low age ceilings of the EOWPVT (19 years) and
the British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS) (18 years)
give rise to obvious problems when calculating the ex-
tent of the language delay in older individuals. Never-
theless, 57% of the Asperger group still scored below
ceiling on the BPVS (a measure of receptive vocabu-
lary) and 62% scored below ceiling on the EOWPVT
(a measure of expressive vocabulary). In the autism
group 76% were below the age ceiling on the expres-
sive test and 69% on the comprehension test (X
significant for each comparison between groups).
Amongst the 21 individuals with Asperger syndrome
whose scores were below the ceiling age of the test (i.e.,
those for whom an exact language age score rather than
an extrapolation was available), the average gap be-
tween chronological age and language comprehension
age was 12.62 years (SD 6.29 years) and the gap be-
tween chronological age and expressive language age
was 10.20 years (SD 6.10 years). In the autism group the
gap between chronological age and comprehension and
expressive ages for those scoring below the age ceiling
(n 22) was similar (difference between comprehen-
sion age and CA 13.33 years, SD 9.53 years; differ-
ence between expressive age and CA 11.67 years,
SD 9.34 years). There were no significant group dif-
ferences on either measure. Moreover, although as
young children, individuals in the Asperger group were
reported not to have shown clinically significant de-
lays in language, in adulthood either their compre-
hension and/or vocabulary use remained well below
chronological age in the majority of cases.
The present study suffers from a number of limi-
tations, which should be borne in mind when drawing
conclusions about possible differences between these
two diagnostic groups. First, and perhaps most impor-
tant, the group designated as having Asperger syndrome
would not meet this diagnosis using strict DSM-IV
(TR) criteria. However, in common with other recent
research (Eisenmajer et al., 1996; Manjiviona & Prior,
1995; Mayes & Calhoun 2001; Miller & Ozonoff, 2000;
Szatmari et al.,1995) so few cases could be identified
from the patient database who met strict criteria, that
the modified criteria used in many of the studies cited
in Tables I and II were applied instead. There is no in-
dication that participants in either the autism or “As-
perger” groups in this study were markedly different
in terms of cognitive level than the participants in com-
parable investigations of autism versus Asperger syn-
drome (reported mean performance IQs in the studies
reported in Tables I and II typically range from around
the mid 80s to just over 100). Thus the groups appear
to be fairly representative of the samples involved in
similar research. Although these findings might not be
replicated if individuals meeting strict DSM-IV crite-
ria were to be included, a recent study by Manjiviona
and Prior (1999) found that the results of group com-
parisons remained the same whether strict or modified
DSM-IV criteria were used for classification.
Secondly, information on early development was
based on retrospective accounts from parents rather than
on contemporaneous data. In particular, the classifica-
tion of individuals as having/not having early language
delays was dependent on parental memory, not on for-
mal assessments in childhood. IQ scores, too, were
based on current performance and on nonverbal tests
only; data on childhood IQ were generally not avail-
able. However, recent research (Howlin, Goode, Hul-
ton & Rutter, in press) indicates that, particularly among
high-functioning individuals with autism/Asperger syn-
drome, IQ scores remain remarkably stable from child
to adulthood, and hence it is likely that childhood IQ
scores would have been within a similar range.
Thirdly, because ADI and other data were obtained
in the course of routine clinical assessments it was not
possible to make audio or video recordings that would
allow interviews to be coded by independent raters.
A further problem, and one affecting almost all
studies of linguistic competence in adulthood, is the
lack of standardized language measures that extend be-
yond the age of 18 or 19 years. Thus, assessments of
functioning in this area tend to be limited in the range
of language skills they measure and ceiling effects
Implications for the Differentiation Between Autism and Asperger Syndrome 11
mean that scoring is invariably prone to some degree
of error.
Finally, assessments of clumsiness, a variable that
has been said to distinguish between individuals with
Asperger syndrome and those with autism, were lim-
ited to ADI-R ratings; no direct measures were used.
Nevertheless, the results of the study are based on
considerably larger samples than those involved in most
previous comparisons of matched IQ groups; age and
gender ratios were similar in both groups, and outcome
measures examined functioning across a range of dif-
ferent domains. Unlike most previous studies in this
area, which have focused on children, the participants
were all over 18 years of age, thus allowing an exam-
ination of differences amongst adults. Overall, the find-
ings indicate that there may be some group differences
in the early years (i.e., in the symptoms reported by
parents by the age of 3). ADI-R algorithm scores, how-
ever, suggested that such differences may decrease with
age, and in adulthood there were no marked differences
between the groups on “Current” ADI-R scores, other
ratings of social outcome or standardized tests.
In summary, the findings of this study and of the
accompanying literature review suggest that compar-
isons between high-functioning individuals with autism
and Asperger syndrome can only produce meaningful
conclusions if the two groups are appropriately matched
for intellectual level. Moreover, the age at which data
are collected may well influence results, with differences
between the two groups probably becoming less evident
as they grow older (Gilchrist et al., 2001; Ozonoff et al.,
2000; Szatmari et. al., 1995). Other authors (Szatmari,
2000; Wing, 2000) have reported that young children
with autism may “shift” to follow an “Asperger-type”
pathway subsequently, especially if they develop flu-
ent language skills. The slight superiority of individu-
als with Asperger syndrome with regard to language
expression has been replicated in a number of previous
comparative studies. However, the fact that individu-
als with a diagnosis of autism are so much further be-
hind in their language development from the start may
also be the prime reason for the relative severity of their
language difficulties in later life (see also Eisenmajer
et al.,1996; Szatmari, et al., 2000).
The present results do not support the view that
HFA and Asperger syndrome (at least as defined by the
modified criteria adopted here) are distinct conditions.
They also indicate that it may be misleading to suggest
(as do DSM-IV/ICD-10) that children with Asperger
syndrome do not have significantly delayed language
skills, as in adulthood their level of language (as well
as their social use of language) is in fact often markedly
impaired. These findings are of clinical importance
since they not only highlight the lack of any substantial
difference between the two diagnostic groups in adult-
hood, but also illustrate the poor prognosis, even for
high-functioning individuals within the autistic spec-
trum. Despite having IQ scores well within the normal
range (and, sometimes, reaching quite high academic
levels) the majority of individuals in both groups had no
close friends, they remained highly dependent on their
families for support, and employment status was low.
Larger-scale prospective studies are still required
in order to clarify the extent and nature of the possi-
ble differences between these two relatively high-
functioning groups. However, for the present, the
weight of evidence seems to suggest that any distinc-
tions that do exist in early childhood may become less
marked with age. There is little to support the view that
individuals with a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome
should be deprived of the support and services that are
available for those with a diagnosis of autism, or that
educational and management programs should differ in
any way. Instead, it should be recognized that for all
high-functioning individuals with an autistic spectrum
disorder there is a need for much improved services
throughout childhood and adulthood, if the long-term
outcome is to be significantly enhanced.
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... Nogle finder, at de to grupper på trods af forskelle i den tidlige sprogudvikling ikke adskiller sig sprogligt på langt sigt, mens andre finder forskelle mellem de to grupper, også i langtidseffekter. Howlin (2003) undersøgte 76 voksne, alle med en IQ inden for normalområdet (> 70). Af disse havde 34 tidlig sprogforsinkelse (dvs. ...
... Denne usikkerhed er størst i Howlins (2003) undersøgelse, hvor deltagerne er fra 18 år og opefter, og foraeldrevurderingerne således foretages mindst 16 år efter det tidspunkt, der skal erindres. Howlin (2003) omtaler selv dette problem og angiver antallet af de foraeldrevurderinger, hun mener, er gode estimeringer fra foraeldrenes side. For gruppen af deltagere med Aspergers syndrom er dette under halvdelen. ...
... En anden afgørende forskel mellem undersøgelserne af Mayes & Calhouns (2001), Howlin (2003) og Lewis, Murdoch & Woodyatt (2007) på den ene side og Szatmari og kollegaers undersøgelser (Szatmari et al., 2003;Bennett et al., 2008) på den anden, er, at sammenligningerne mellem tidligt og senere sprogniveau kun i sidstnaevnte undersøgelser er foretaget på baggrund af regulaere testninger af sproget allerede fra den første undersøgelse. I de andre undersøgelser sammenlignes det aktuelle sprogniveau alene med den oprindelige status som forsinket eller ikke-forsinket. ...
Autisme er en heterogen diagnose. Den er karakteriseret ved en betydelig spredning inden for intelligens og sprog og ikke mindst: ved prognostisk heterogenitet. En bedre forståelse af beskyttende faktorer og risikofaktorer ved autisme sætter os i stand til at intervenere mere effektivt og kan desuden bidrage til teorier om normaludviklingen. Denne artikel fokuserer på en afgørende faktor for prognosen ved autisme: den tidlige sprogudvikling. De tidlige sprogfærdigheder er en afgørende prædiktor for senere fungeren, såvel på kort som på langt sigt. Højtfungerende autisme og Aspergers syndrom skelnes primært på baggrund af, hvorvidt der har været tale om tidlig sprogforsinkelse eller ej, men interessant nok er der modstridende resultater i de undersøgelser, der sammenligner gruppernes senere funktionsniveauer. Nogle undersøgelser viser, at unge med Aspergers syndrom i modsætning til unge med højtfungerende autisme typisk har alderssvarende sproglige færdigheder, mens andre viser, at de to gruppers færdigheder er på højde med hinanden. I denne artikel argumenterer vi for, at denne umiddelbare modsætning bedst afklares ved grundigere vurderinger af de sproglige færdigheder. Gunstige udviklingsforløb er en mulighed, men de fleste børn med højtfungerende autisme og Aspergers syndrom har små, men klinisk betydningsfulde rester af sproglige mangler. Der er behov for mere forskning og bedre redskaber til sprogvurderinger inden for denne population.
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... Autistic people with speech onset delay (A-SOD: lack of single words by age two and communicative phrases used by age three: American Psychiatric Association, 1994) often (go on to) have comparable IQ and developmental level to autistics without that delay (A-NoSOD;Happé, 2011;Bennett et al. 2008;Howlin, 2003;Szatmari et al., 2009). This paper analyses the visual, auditory, vocal, and motor advantages among A-SOD compared with A-NoSOD and sometimes non-autistic people that enable this developmental feat. ...
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... Also, compared to children with developmental receptive language disorders, children with ASD evinced significantly more improvement in verbal IQ and receptive language over a period of sixteen years (Mawhood, Howlin, and Rutter, 2000). In fact, early differences in language ability of children with ASD (with vs. without delay in language acquisition) can diminish over time (Gilchrist et al., 2001;Howlin, 2003). Overall, it has been shown that developmental change in communicative deficits in individuals with ASD until adulthood is prevalent (Tager-Flusberg, 1996). ...
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The aim of this thesis is to contribute to the current knowledge of prosody competence in high-functioning individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) by investigating the perception and production of referential givenness in this population. Previous studies have shown that the encoding and decoding of information structure by means of prosody poses an area that is particularly affected in adults with ASD. In a perception experiment, participants had to make judgements as to how far an item or person referred to by a target word sounds as if it is known or new. Results reveal that participants from the ASD group made significantly less use of prosody than participants from the control group did. In a production experiment, the ability of adults with ASD to encode referential givenness was investigated in a cooperative story-telling task. The findings for both the prosodic marking and the choice of referring expressions indicate that most of the speakers with ASD did not attenuate given information to the same extent as control speakers did. Taken together, the two experiments presented in this thesis provide further evidence for the assumption that pragmatic prosody represents an area of particular difficulty for individuals with ASD. Observations from both experiments have also confirmed that individuals with ASD tend to employ compensation mechanisms both in structured tasks and in every-day social encounters. While at first view, their use of prosody might not always appear strikingly deviant, a profound and detailed analysis might reveal subtle differences that, in sum, can lead to the impression of a speaker being less involved in conversation. The findings highlight the presence of prosodic deficits even in high-functioning adults with ASD and might help to better understand the difficulties encountered by people with ASD in speech-based communication and social encounters.
... Language milestones in children with ASD are often delayed and are considered an early signal for children who are later diagnosed with ASD. For example, the language milestone of saying the first word occurs between 12-18 months old for typically developing children, while in children with ASD, early language delay results in this milestone occurring at an average of 36 months old (Howlin, 2003). However, many researchers hold the view that the language development of individuals with ASD is not merely delayed compared to that of typically developing children, but also demonstrates atypical skill acquisition in language (Menyuk, 1975). ...
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Developmental difference is a common characteristic of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with unclear sex differences. The current study included 610 children with ASD, aged between 2 and 7 years, with completed language profiles. We used a nonparametric item response theory model called Mokken scale analysis to examine the order of acquisition of developmental language milestones in children with ASD. Our results demonstrated the developmental language differences in the expressive and receptive language dimensions in children with ASD compared with typical developmental sequences. Furthermore, The acquisition of gestures and pragmatics was more impaired in the female subgroup than in the male subgroup. The identified developmental language sequence could help provide a more comprehensive ASD developmental profile.
Typically developing children start using words around age 1 and develop conversational ability by 18 to 24 months. In autism, these communicative behaviors are delayed and impaired to varying degrees. Affected areas of language development include articulation, word use, syntax and morphology, echolalia (repetition with similar intonation of words/phrases someone else has said), and confusion of personal pronouns. Further research must address deficits in ability to process information about social situations, as this is most likely behind the communication disorders in autism.
Even with improved diagnosis and treatment in recent years, studies show that less than 20\% of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are considered to have a Good/Very Good outcome in adulthood. Variables affecting long‐term prognosis include IQ, development of some useful language by age 5 or 6, severity of autistic symptoms, early intervention, and access to support networks in adulthood. Specific concerns for adults with ASD are mental health, mortality and life expectancy, deterioration with age, and what constitutes a good quality of life.
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We explored reading comprehension development in children on the spectrum from pre-school to the first (YOS1) and third year of schooling (YOS3). Children were first assessed on meaning-related skills in pre-school. Forty-one children completed follow-up assessments of reading comprehension, reading accuracy, and listening comprehension in YOS1. Nineteen returned for assessments of reading accuracy, reading comprehension, and listening comprehension in YOS3. Children showed poorer reading comprehension than reading accuracy at both timepoints. Reading comprehension, reading accuracy, and listening comprehension were significantly concurrently correlated. Pre-school receptive vocabulary was a significant predictor of YOS3 reading comprehension. Results from this preliminary investigation highlight the potential for early identification of children on the spectrum at risk for reading comprehension difficulties.
Research on the structure and content of parental input to children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is an important, yet largely neglected area of study. In particular, it is not clear which input features are similar or different between children with ASD and typically developing (TD) children. We analysed transcripts of spontaneous conversations between six ASD children and their mothers, who were followed over a period of between 12 and 26 months, for common features in the composition and function of the shared lexical items in the mothers’ speech to their children with ASD. Results first indicated the small core lexicon shared by all the mothers (8.27%) made up a total of 78.1% of the mothers’ actual speech, similar to what’s been found in maternal speech to TD 2-year-old children. Results also showed that, in contrast to maternal speech to TD children, the core lexicon of the mothers of ASD children was composed of slightly more content words (particularly verbs) than function words (68.48% versus 31.52%). These results suggest that mothers restrict their choice of lexical items to a small pool of highly frequent words when conversing with their children, ASD as well as TD. The use of more content words in maternal speech to children with ASD may reflect these mothers’ explicit efforts to orient and direct their ASD children’s attention to an ongoing activity.
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The World Health Organization is in the process of preparing the eleventh revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), scheduled for presentation to the World Health Assembly for approval in 2017. The International Advisory Group for the Revision of the ICD-10 Mental and Behavioural Disorders made improvement in clinical utility an organizing priority for the revision. The uneven nature of the diagnostic information included in the ICD-10 Clinical Descriptions and Diagnostic Guidelines (CDDG), especially with respect to differential diagnosis, is a major shortcoming in terms of its usefulness to clinicians. Consequently, ICD-11 Working Groups were asked to collate diagnostic information about the disorders under their purview using a standardized template (referred to as a "Content Form"). Using the information provided in the Content Forms as source material, the ICD-11 CDDG are being developed with a uniform structure. The effectiveness of this format in producing more consistent clinical judgments in ICD-11 as compared to ICD-10 is currently being tested in a series of Internet-based field studies using standardized case material, and will also be tested in clinical settings. © 2015 World Psychiatric Association.
The present study compared individuals with high-functioning autism (HFA) and Asperger disorder (AD) in intellectual, motor, visuospatial, and executive function domains. Participants with AD demonstrated significantly higher Verbal and Full Scale IQ scores, significantly larger Verbal-Performance IQ discrepancies, and significantly better visual-perceptual skills than those with HFA. Once the superior intellectual abilities of the AD group were controlled (both statistically through analysis of covariance and by examining IQ-matched subgroups of HFA and AD participants), no significant group differences in motor, visuospatial, or executive functions were evident, save a marginally significant trend toward poorer fine motor performance in the AD group. This suggests that AD may simply be "high-IQ autism" and that separate names for the disorders may not be warranted. The relation of these findings to theories of autism and AD are discussed.
This study aimed to determine whether there were differences in behavioural and emotional disturbance (psychopathology) between children and adolescents with high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome. Subjects consisted of 75 children and adolescents with high-functioning autism and 52 with Asperger's disorder (DSM-IV diagnoses). Psychopathology was measured using the Developmental Behaviour Checklist. Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) controlling for the effects of age and cognitive level was used to determine whether the groups differed in their levels of psychopathology. It was found that children and adolescents with Asperger's disorder presented with higher levels of psychopathology than those with high-functioning autism, were more disruptive, antisocial and anxious, and had more problems with social relationships. The implications of these findings are discussed.