What is the difference between ASD, ASC, autism and Asperger’s?
In this post, we get to the bottom of the differences between the terms ASD, ASC, autism and Asperger’s – four terms which are often used interchangeably which can cause frustration and confusion among educators. We often hear the phrase, ‘if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.’ Now, this phrase is important as it highlights the fact that each person should be treated as an individual, and not defined by a label. However, if you are supporting a young person who has been diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum then the various different acronyms and terms should be understood.
Did you know..?
1 in 100 people are affected by autism.
70% of people with autism suffer from anxiety or depression.
Autism is not a mental health issue in itself.
What are the similarities between the terms ASD, ASC, autism and Asperger’s?
Although this is a generalisation, it’s true to say that the disorders covered here are all lifelong developmental disabilities which also affect communication and how an individual makes sense of the world around them.
Keep reading to make sure you’re informed on how each of these terms is distinct from each other and the contexts in which they are commonly used.
ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder)
Short for Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD is a lifelong developmental disorder which can affect a person’s interpretations of verbal and non-verbal language and may include repetitive behaviours or restrictive interests. ASD is the term used by medical professionals to someone with autism.
ASD are a group of disorders that also encompasses Asperger syndrome and PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance). Sometimes people with an autism spectrum disorder may also have other difficulties such as learning disabilities, or they may have average or above-average intelligence.
As alluded to above, every person should be treated as an individual.
Hang on, so what is the difference between ASD and autism?
Ultimately, ASD and autism are the same… ASD is more commonly used in health care settings.
If autism exists on a spectrum, what do we mean by this?
A condition existing on a spectrum means that it can affect different people in different ways. It may be that in one person autism affects every aspect of life significantly, whereas in another person it may be much less obvious and they may be seen as ‘high-functioning’.
For each of the possible characteristics of autism (listed below), you can imagine the spectrum as a set of volume dials. In an individual with autism, some characteristics are turned up high and others are turned down low. The combination in each person is individual to them.
Possible characteristics commonly associated with autism:
- Sensory Sensitivity – Students may be hypersensitive to certain senses or undersensitive to other senses. Such sensitivities can lead to stress and discomfort throughout the day.
- Dealing with change – Some students find changing routines, tasks, or locations stressful.
- Communication – students may have difficulty processing language or conveying information to others, both verbally and in writing.
- The ability to empathize – students may have trouble understanding the world from another person’s perspective. For example, they may be unable to read emotions, thoughts, or intentions.
- Social rules and cues – A student may struggle to comprehend social rules and expectations the rest of the class take for granted. This can make it difficult for pupils to integrate with classmates.
- Making eye contact – A significant number of autistic students describe making eye contact as painful and will try to avoid it where possible.
- Ability to generalise – The application of knowledge from one area to another can be difficult for people with autism. Consequently, they will have to reacquire the same skill over and over again in various contexts (e.g. how to take turns in class, how to take turns in the playground etc.)
What is ASC?
ASC stands for ‘Autistic Spectrum Condition.’ The phrasing here is interesting, as many people in the social care and education sector are questioning whether autism should be viewed as a ‘condition’ rather than a ‘disorder.’ It may be that you see ASC more commonly used as we move away from any negative connotations with the terms that we use. This is in conjunction with calls to recognise ‘World Autism Acceptance Day’ in place of ‘Autism Awareness Day’.
Many now argue that each individual should have the choice in how they self-identify.
The wording choice here leads to a broader question: should autism be viewed as a disability? Instead, should we be moving toward accepting autism as a common condition?
- Further reading: When is Autism Awareness Day?‘
What is Asperger’s?
Asperger’s is a term that in the past has referred to a specific and high-functioning form of autism. People with Asperger’s often have a very similar and specific set of needs and tend to be of average or above-average intelligence. As a term, it is no longer in widespread use, with ASD and ASC more prominent. However, there are still some individuals who self-identify with this term.
- Further Reading: In Conversation with a Student Support Services Mentor on supporting university-level students with autism, parts one and two.
How to support young people on the autistic spectrum:
- Refer to the student by name regularly so that they know you are speaking to them.
- Make sure the student is paying attention before asking a question or giving instructions.
- Use child’s interests to engage them in the lesson.
- Reduce the amount of communication used including non-verbal, and keep instructions simple and clear.
- Use visual supports to help students process information.
- Limit environmental stimuli where possible (for example noisy rooms, lots of people moving around.) Children with an autism spectrum disorder will find it difficult to process lots of different sensory information simultaneously.
- Wait for students to respond to previous questions or instructions before repeating yourself or giving further instructions. It may take children with an autism spectrum disorder longer to process information than you would expect.
- Use a stress scale with students can help them to express their emotions visually. For example, a traffic light system or a 1-5 scale of “I’m calm” to “I’m angry.”
- ‘Time-out’ cards to allow students to remove themselves from a stressful situation.
- Reward charts serve as a useful visual reminder of what is expected, whereas verbal praise will not be as clear to the student.