Development and Psychopathology

Reflecting on the Past and Planning for the Future of Developmental Psychopathology

Is Asperger syndrome/high-functioning autism necessarily a disability?

a1 University of Cambridge


This article considers whether Asperger syndrome (AS) or high-functioning autism (HFA) necessarily leads to disability or whether AS/HFA simply leads to “difference.” It concludes that the term “difference” in relation to AS/HFA is a more neutral, value-free, and fairer description than terms such as “impairment,” “deficiency,” or “disability”; that the term “disability” only applies to the lower functioning cases of autism; but that the term “disability” may need to be retained for AS/HFA as long as the legal framework provides financial and other support only for individuals with a disability. Two models are summarized which attempt to define in what way individuals with AS/HFA are “different”: the central coherence model, and the folk psychology–folk physics model. The challenge for research is to test the value of such models and to precisely characterize the differences in cognitive style.

c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EB, UK.