Cambridge Independent Neuroscience and Psychiatry Services
Autism and Asperger Syndrome
What are Autism and Aperger syndrome?

Everyone's brain develops and works differently. Autism and Asperger syndrome refer to a way in which some individuals' brains develop.  
This neurodevelopmental disorder is usually diagnosed in childhood.  Autism and Asperger syndrome are sometimes referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  

Children may have significant difficulties in 3 areas, which can cause significant impairment and distress. 

Social interaction


What causes Autism and Asperger syndrome?

These neurodevelopmental disorders are not fully understood yet.  As with other neurodevelopmental problems, such as ADHD, and mental illness, such as Depression, genetic factors, certain neurological (brain) areas and/or neurotransmittors (such as serotonin) are likely relevant.  We know that a genetic component exists for Autism Spectrum Disorders.  Research also indicates that more or less 5% of diagnoses are associated with medical conditions, such as infantile spasm, congenital Rubella, Tuberose Sclerosis, Cerebral Lipidosis, Fragile X and epilepsy (10%).  

There is no convincing evidence that routine immunisations or vaccinations cause Autism or Asperger syndrome or are risk factors for Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Research indicates that more or less 5/1000 children and young people likely present with Asperger syndrome and more or less 1/1000 likely presents with Autism.  

How are Autism and Asperger syndrome diagnosed?

GP's can refer children and families to a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist for a comprehensive assessment.  It is important to know that many psychiatric or neurodevelopmental disorders and mental illnesses can present very similar to ASD (differential diagnoses).  

Differential Diagnoses:
Developmental problems or disorders including learning disabilities or difficulties
Mood disorders such as Depression
Anxiety disorders such as OCD
Psychotic disorders such as Schizophrenia
Attachment problems and/or abuse
Medical problems and medication

This list is not comprehensive.

Quality of symptoms may indicate whether a child presents with ASD or another disorder, for instance OCD or psychosis.  Association (including pattern and severity) with neurological impairment, seizures, cognitive impairment, developmental problems and learning disabilities along with age of onset are relevant factors when differentiating ASD from for instance psychotic disorders.  

Child Psychiatrists will complete a detailed bio-psycho-social history/assessment, which will include a detailed developmental history (talking about the pregnancy, birth and carefully considering every year of the child's development), observation and interaction.  Children are likely to be seen more than once, before a diagnosis is made.  Child Psychiatrists will also consider school, medical and psychological reports if available, and possibly speak to school regarding their observations and concerns.

Specific, structured assessment tools may be used to support a comprehensive clinical assessment (especially for second opinion or Court work).  These structured assessments should however never be used in isolation when considering diagnosis.  

Many children and adults struggle with difficulties often observed in Autism and Asperger syndrome and a diagnosis is not always required or appropriate.  Diagnoses are usually only appropriate if significant impairment and distress are identified in many areas of the child or young person's life due to ongoing symptoms.  

How are Autism and Asperger syndrome treated?

Children can be supported with learning language, social interaction and behaviour, in many different ways.  It is important that children are supported in Education and Child Psychiatrists and CAMHS teams can often help to support and educate schools.  Children and families also often require support after school hours and at home. 

Children with ASD are often more vulnerable to develop other mental health or neurodevelopmental problems and sometimes more than one disorder or mental illness occur at the same time (comorbidities).  Child Psychiatrists will assess for comorbidities and complications during assessments and follow up appointments.  

Developmental problems including learning disabilities and difficulties, language problems and ADHD
Anxiety disorders
Mood disorders
Psychotic disorders
Eating disorders
Sleep disorders
Substance Abuse
Medical problems

This list is not comprehensive.  

Comorbidities may require medication, therapeutic and social intervention.    

Psychoeducation (educating the family regarding what to expect and how to manage difficulties) is very important. Parental support groups are often available and can also be helpful.  

Please see Helpful Links for more information on support for families and young people. 


It is important to know that many children with ASD have bright futures and can achieve their goals.  

Research indicates that prognosis is likely related to non verbal IQ (especially if 50 and below), language disorders and social communicative adaptive skills.  

Comprehensive assessment to exclude and monitor for comorbidities, along with support for young people (especially relating to learning social and communicative adaptive skills) and families, are very important. 

What is DAMP?

Deficits in Attention, Motor control and Perception.  DAMP is described as a collection of syndromes, and is not a recognised diagnostic category.

The content of these pages is intended for general information purposes only.  These pages do not constitute any form of consultative or diagnostic tool or process.  The assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental health difficulties, particularly in children, is a complex and specialised process and should only be undertaken by individuals with appropriate training and sufficient experience, such as qualified mental health professionals.  If you are concerned about the mental health of a young person, please seek appropriate advice from your General Practitioner, local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service or Social Care.  Research findings and conclusions can vary between sources, and can change over time. 
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