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Keywords:

  • Asperger's disorder;
  • autism;
  • epidemiology;
  • genetics;
  • neuropsychology

Objective: To compare, contrast and review clinical and neuropsychological studies of high-functioning autism and Asperger's disorder.

Method: This paper reviews past and contemporary conceptualizations of autism and Asperger's disorder, together with epidemiological information, genetic and neurobehavioural findings. This paper focuses on neurobehavioural studies, in particular, executive functioning, lateralization, visual-perceptual and motor processing, which have provided an important source of information about the potential neurobiological dissociation that may exist between autism and Asperger's disorder.

Results: The clinical profiles of autism and Asperger's disorder contain a mixture of psychiatric and neurological symptoms: for example, movement abnormalities (i.e. stereotyped behaviours, hand flapping, toe walking, whole-body movements), atypical processing of parts and wholes, verbal and non-verbal deficits, ritualistic/compulsive behaviour, disturbances in reciprocal social interaction and associated depression and anxiety. The considerable clinical overlap between autism and Asperger's disorder has led many to question whether Asperger's disorder is merely a mild form of autism, or whether it should be considered as a separate clinical entity.

Conclusion: In light of the growing body of epidemiological information, genetic, and neurobehavioural evidence that distinguishes autism from Asperger's disorder, it is premature to rule out the possibility that these disorders may be clinically, and possibly neurobiologically separate.