It has often been the case where patients are wrongly diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when they actually have NLD and vice versa. However these disabilities are very similar so is no wonder they are getting mixed up.
The Asperger Syndrome (AS) is a neurologically-based disorder and it is one of the autism spectrum disorders. Just like the other disorders which are part of this category the patient shows signs of repetitive behaviors, has problems with social interaction and communication. However AS is slightly different than the other disorders in the autism spectrum because the patient diagnosed with AS displays higher cognitive abilities and language skills. Also, people who suffer from this disorder have normal intelligence and that’s why professionals are debating if AS is any different from high functioning autism.
Individuals with AS have problems socializing with other people, they seem to be unable to interpret and respond to social cues. Difficulty in changing from one topic to another is why they always seem to do things their way and just follow their agenda. Children with AS sometimes are unwilling to communicate with someone their age which results in their inability to form friendships.
It is important to note that individuals with AS are often able to form proper sentences but their use of the language is very unusual. They have troubles with controlling their speech, sometimes they speak very fast or they use formal vocabulary, other times they talk with a monotone voice. If a topic is interesting to them they continue to revert to it, not allowing the topic to be changed by someone else.
Nonverbal communication seems even harder for AS patients. Their use of body language and gesticulations is very limited and they also have problems reading other people cues. They often turn away as to avoid eye contact and their facial expressions can be either non-existent or very inappropriate.
Individuals with AS have rather odd behavior. They could be doing particular routines over and over again, finger flicking, body rocking and similar movements are also noticeable with this patients. They pick a particular interest and they become obsessed with it spending all of their time on that subject. However there is a good side to this behavior as patients with AS having this intense interests can sometimes show outstanding talents the in the particular area they were interested in.
Nonverbal Learning Disability or NLD is slightly different than AS and people who are diagnosed with it show difficulty in using academic and other life skills. That is because they have deficiencies in some areas like visual organization, motor coordination, interpreting information and similar. These weaknesses lead to social difficulties because they can’t communicate properly and also areas like mathematics and handwriting are very limited to patients that have NLD. However they have great verbal memory, strong vocabulary and usually individuals with NLD have higher scores in the verbal parts of an IQ tests in comparison to the tests in nonverbal sections.
As we can see this areas of difficulty can bring about the same symptoms that we can see in individuals that are diagnosed with AS. NLD patients are unable to understand nonverbal communication because they don’t show any facials expressions which leads to problems when they respond to others and with respectable turn-taking in a conversation. These difficulties slow down their social interactions making other people avoid them which results in social withdrawal. Developing proper motor skills and problems with changing topics are some of the other difficulties individuals with NLD have.
We can’t deny the fact that these two disorders both have symptoms that are very similar. What is undeniable is that there are individuals out there who are meeting the criteria for both NLD and AS. That is why different studies have given different results on this topic. Some researchers feel that NLD is just a profile found with AS patients instead of being a disorder itself. Others on the other hand are sure that these two syndromes can overlap but are still very distinctive.
The difference between these syndromes can be found with the people who provide the diagnosis for them. Psychiatry is the field that diagnoses AS which is a disorder that goes along with four other disorders together known as pervasive developmental disorders. These disorders are diagnosed based on the observed behavior of the patient. AS, autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder being the three most known to the public. All of these disorders are very similar and Yale researchers are trying to find out what distinguishes AS from high functioning autism. Even though they are extremely similar AS shares a neuropsychological profile with NLD.
NLD on the other hand is diagnosed in the field of neuropsychology unlike AS and is not diagnosed based on the observed behaviors of the patient. Dr. Byron Rourke has written a book that mentions NLD stating that there are several neurological disorders that share the NLD profile. Dr. Rourke is one of the above mentioned Yale researchers. Lots of Psychiatrists and psychologists have stated that NLD is just a learning profile, arguing with neuropsychologists who strongly believe that NLD is a diagnosis. One thing they do agree at is that there is an existent overlap between these two disorders.
One important thing to add is that NLD has in incidence of 1:1 meaning that the number of individuals that have this disorder is equally divided between girls and boys. On the other hand AS has a higher incidence towards boys.
To summarize NLD and AS are both neurologically based disorders that have similar symptoms like motor clumsiness and difficulties with any kind of nonverbal communication. The way of which both of these disorders are diagnosed is different but we must agree that there is an overlap between NLD and AS.
This article doesn’t prove why that overlap exists but rather agrees to the fact that whether the individual is going to be diagnosed with NLD or AS highly depends on the person who is doing the diagnose.