DSM-IV Criteria Explained: Aspergers

After examining the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for Autism, let’s take a look at how they compare to the current definition of Aspergers. The diagnostic criteria for Aspergers are almost identical to those for Autism, with these key differences:

  • Section B (the communication bit) is not included
  • There are two additional conditions:
    • No delay in the development of language
    • No delay in cognitive development, adaptive skills or curiosity about the environment

Sections A and C are exactly the same. At least three of those eight criteria must be met to qualify for a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome – at least two from Section A (social interaction) and one from Section C (restricted and repetitive behaviours).

There’s also the requirement that ‘the behaviours are not better explained by the criteria for Autistic Disorder’ – which in practice means that if there’s a delay in language or difficulties with imaginative play then the diagnosis is Autism, otherwise it’s Aspergers.

The additional lack of delay in cognitive skills isn’t much use in distinguishing between the two disorders, as you can also meet the Autism criteria without it – but that’s part of a larger discussion we’ll get to when we discuss the DSM-V changes.

Here’s a summary of the Asperger’s criteria, but since they’re exactly the same as the ones for Autism I won’t repeat the explanations or examples (you can find them here).


At least three of the following eight criteria must be met, with at least:

  • two from section A
  • one from section C

SECTION A: Qualitative impairment in social interaction

  • Marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviours such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture and gestures to regulate social interaction
  • Failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
  • A lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests or achievements with other people
  • Lack of social or emotional reciprocity

SECTION C: Restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviours, interests and activities

  • Encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
  • Apparent inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
  • Stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms
  • Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

What’s next?

Okay, so now that we understand what these current criteria are all about we’re ready to move on and take a look at some of the issues (why they needed changing), what those changes are and why any of it matters.

Last updated 12 May, 2012 by Bec Oakley

Bec Oakley is an autistic writer and proud parent, with an intense passion for 80s text adventures, Twizzlers and making the world a better place for autistic people and their families.