Abstract Asperger syndrome (AS) and autistic disorder are two subtypes of pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), but there has been considerable debate over whether AS and autistic disorder without mental retardation (IQ ≥ 70), called high-functioning autism (HFA), are distinct conditions or not. The aim of the present paper was to clarify this issue through a comparison of cognitive function and autistic symptom profiles. Based on the DSM-IV and ICD-10 definitions of language acquisition, 36 age- and IQ-balanced subjects with AS (mean age, 12.8 years; mean full-scale IQ, 98.3) were compared with 37 subjects with HFA (mean age, 12.6 years; mean full-scale IQ, 94.6) on the Japanese version of the Wechsler Intelligence Scales and the Childhood Autism Rating Scale-Tokyo Version (CARS-TV). Compared with the HFA subjects, the AS subjects scored significantly higher on Verbal IQ, Vocabulary, and Comprehension, but scored significantly lower on Coding. Although the total CARS-TV score did not differ significantly between the two groups, AS subjects scored significantly lower (i.e. less abnormal) on Verbal communication and Non-verbal communication than did the HFA subjects. A history of normal language acquisition in early childhood could predict his/her better verbal ability in mid-childhood or later. Autistic cognitive characteristics shared by both AS and HFA subjects appear to support the validity of the current diagnostic classification of PDD.