Difference between Asperger’s and Social Anxiety

Both Asperger’s syndrome (Asperger’s) and social anxiety are disorders that are characterized by social difficulties for an individual suffering from them. We will take a closer look at the differences between the two disorders in this article.


Asperger’s vs Social Anxiety
People with Asperger’s syndrome often display intense interests, such as this boy’s fascination with molecular structure

In modern psychiatry, Asperger’s syndrome is classified as being within the spectrum of Autism disorders. Asperger’s was first observed and described by the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger in the 1940s. He studied the behavior of children with poor non-verbal communication skills, limited emotional responses and physical clumsiness. Asperger’s syndrome was classified as a diagnosis only in the early 1990s and still remains the subject of controversies since there is no agreement between psychiatrists on what exactly is the cause of the disorder.

There are several levels of traits that are characteristic of Asperger’s, and a sufferer of Asperger’s may have one or more of these traits:

  • Intelligence related traits: Strong ideas and interests; focusing; periods of contemplation; excellent long term memory related to interests; the ability to make connections and figure out how things work; increased pattern recognition; persuasiveness in collecting information related to the subject of interest; innovative ideas on how to solve things; advanced skills in mathematics or music; stubbornness and strong will.
  • Neurotypical traits: poor motor skills; poor body awareness; poor body control; problems with ball sports; poor hand-eye coordination; poor balance; poor handwriting; being easily distracted by sounds.
  • Obsessive-compulsive traits: Listomania (compulsive need to make lists); sitting on the same seat for a long period of time; wearing the same clothes;  irritability; feeling compelled to follow demanding routines or rituals before being able to leave the house etc.
  • Social and communication traits: Having problems with authorities, partner obsessions; atypical nonverbal communication; odd postures; inability to interpret body language, inability to understand the other’s intentions; overall inability to behave properly socially (to return social gestures, to apologize, etc.)
social anxiety
A panic cycle scheme, applicable to social anxiety

Social anxiety is a form of a generalized anxiety disorder. Social anxiety manifests itself in a feeling of extreme discomfort for an individual suffering from it while in the course of social interaction or during the anticipation of such interaction. A person with social anxiety experiences fear in the presence of other people even though their behavior is not potentially harmful to him. Because of the association with fear, social anxiety is sometimes referred to as social phobia. Developmental social anxiety occurrences in childhood are normal as a part of the process of learning to behave and interact in society and most individuals grow out of it. In some cases, if social development is not accomplished due to various reasons, an individual may experience episodes of chronic social anxiety.

Signs and symptoms of social anxiety include:

  • Excessive blushing
  • Cold sweat
  • Tremors
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Stuttering
  • Rapid incomprehensive speech.
  • Panic attacks
  • Feeling of overwhelming fear

Comparison chart

Asperger’s Social Anxiety
Individuals are not afraid of social interaction Individuals are afraid of social interaction
Often characterized by a fixation on a specific topic Individuals do not fixate on a specific topic
Problems in relationships are caused by the inability to interact Problems in relationships are caused by anxiety
Individuals are not able to recognize emotions Individuals do not have problems with recognizing emotions
Usually a lifelong disorder Not permanent

Asperger’s vs Social Anxiety

What is the difference between Asperger’s and Social Anxiety?

  • Asperger’s and social anxiety differ as far as social interactions are concerned. People with Asperger’s want to be social, have friends, go to parties and start a relationship, but they do not know how to do any of these. They do not understand why other individuals are upset with them or irritated by them.  This incomprehension means that they are alone most of the time. People with social anxiety, on the other hand, also want social contact, but they are afraid of it. Every possible social interaction for them results in anxiety with all the accompanied symptoms. They do not want to be alone, but they are scared to interact. For people with social anxiety, isolation is more painful than for people with Asperger’s, who are sort of accustomed to it and prefer being alone to being bewildered by the reaction of other people during a social interaction.
  • Both Asperger’s and social anxiety are not good for any sort of relationship, albeit with different applications. An individual with Asperger’s can live with a partner for significant periods of time, but their relationships seldom grow, or, most often there is no relationship in the traditional sense at all. People with social anxiety, on the other hand, have a capacity for a healthy relationship, but their anxiety and persistent worries associated with the partner prevents them from building it.
  • Individuals with Asperger’s select a topic and fixate on it even when the topic doesn’t require fixation in order to be understood or to be a source of pleasure. People with social anxiety, on the other hand, do not have strong fixation patterns; on the contrary, their attention and focusing is scattered because of their constant worries.
  • Asperger’s is characterized by the inability to recognize emotions and feelings of others. It is as though individuals with Asperger’s don’t have “a chart” of emotions which helps with scanning emotions and reacting appropriately. Some psychiatrists claim that the inability of emotional pattern recognition is caused by the impairment of the amygdala in the mid-brain of Asperger’s people. On the other hand, people with social anxiety have normal emotional pattern recognition, but the feeling of fear is so overwhelming while conducting social interactions, that there is no use of emotional recognition.
  • Asperger’s is considered by professional psychiatrists to be a lifelong disorder. The traits and symptoms associated with Asperger’s are usually observed in early childhood and rarely stop as the individual gets older. Asperger’s can be slightly improved through behavioral therapy and practices.   Social anxiety, on the other hand, can be “activated” under some circumstances at any point of one’s life, and it can stop just as easily if the proper treatment is applied or the triggers of social anxiety are no longer present.