This article entitled “A Powerful Identity, A Vanishing Diagnosis” appeared on the New York Times website last week as one of the most emailed articles. It does a great job discussing the possibility of eliminating the diagnosis of Asperger’s from the upcoming revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the definitive text that phsychiatrists reference for making diagnosis. There are many quotes in the article from experts in the field. Instead, Asperger’s would be part of an all-encompassing diagnosis of “autism spectrum disorder”. While Asperger’s is thought to be a mild and high-functioning form of autism, autism actually spans a huge range of severity and commonly co-occurs with other conditions such as mental retardation. Right now, there are clear guidelines that seperate a diagnosis of Asperger’s from someone with high-functioning autism – autistic children show a delay in language before 3 years of age while Aspergians tend to be precocious talkers and readers. A hallmark characteristic of people with Aspergers is a difficulty interpreting and engaging in non-verbal communcation such as eye contact, facial expression and body gestures. More criteria can be found here.
Asperger’s syndrome was first described relatively recently by Hans Asperger in 1944 (wikipedia entry) around the same time that autism was described. It wasn’t until 1994 that it became an official diagnosis and perhaps in 2012, when the new DSM revision comes out, it no longer will be. What will this do for people with Asperger’s who may have received comfort from their diagnosis? Will lumping it with autism have an impact on people’s willingness to get help for their disorder? It will be interesting to see how this debate unfolds.
For those interested in learning more, there are many amazing, enjoyable books written by Aspergian and autistic authors describing their experiences with the disorder. Some of these are mentioned in the article and I’ve included them and others in this post here.