“Aspergers” or “High-Functioning Autism” – What Should We Call It?

According to a panel of researchers assembled by the American Psychiatric Association, Aspergers is really just a form of autism and does not merit a separate diagnosis. Even though many researchers already refer to Aspergers as “high-functioning autism,” it hasn't been listed under the autism category in the official diagnostic guide of mental disorders (i.e., Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM). The DSM serves as a guide for mental health professionals and government agencies.

But a new draft fifth edition moves Aspergers officially into the autism category, provoking a wide range of responses among individuals with Aspergers — some of whom say they do not want to be labeled as autistic. Instead of including a diagnostic category for Aspergers, the DSM 5 draft includes traits associated with Aspergers (e.g., difficulty with social interactions, limited/repetitive behaviors) in a broad category called autism spectrum disorder.

The intent is to try to make the diagnosis of autism clearer and to better reflect the science. But the change is going to be hard for some “Aspies” who are probably going to have a very hard time calling themselves autistic.

Many people with Aspergers take pride in a diagnosis that probably describes some major historical figures (e.g., Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison). Under the new system, those individuals would represent just one extreme of a spectrum. On the other extreme is somebody who might have to wear adult diapers and maybe a head-restraining device. This may be very hard for some Aspies to swallow.

Currently, the diagnosis of Aspergers often hinges on a child's language skills. But that's pretty subjective and can change as a child grows up. The categories are just not used by clinicians in a reliable fashion, according to the research panel. A single category for autism spectrum disorder will let clinicians stop agonizing over which diagnostic category to put someone in and focus on his/her specific difficulties with communication, social interaction, or information processing.

The change makes a lot of sense to some people. As one parent stated, “As somebody who has a child with a diagnosis of autism, I want to be able to turn to the official criteria and see a description that sounds like my child. Right now my child sounds like three or four different disorders.”

Eliminating the "Aspergers" diagnosis won't mean that individuals in that category will lose access to services, though. That's because almost anybody with an Aspergers diagnosis also could qualify for what is called autistic disorder. The change could make it easier for some mothers/fathers to get help for a youngster with Aspergers.

Currently, states including California provide services to kids with autism – but not those with Aspergers. So removing Aspergers really removes what is a false barrier to a parent getting care for his/her child.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

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