In all ethnic, racial and socioeconomic groups, there has been a population of people whose behavior tends to fall outside established social norms. Researchers have attempted to create a vocabulary with which to better understand and explain such behavior. However, as scientific studies yield more information about the nature of such conditions, the vocabulary used to describe them can change as understanding develops.
In the past, mental health professionals understood Asperger’s syndrome and autism to be two separate conditions, albeit with some common symptoms. Today, however, the American Psychiatric Association classifies Asperger’s as a less severe form of autism, categorizing it under the umbrella term of “autism spectrum disorder.”
Diagnosable mental health conditions appear in cataloged form in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This book serves as a guide for mental health professionals attempting to identify such conditions, the first step in developing a strategy for management and/or treatment. The DSM is subject to occasional revision based on new research.
Asperger’s first appeared in the fourth edition of the DSM in 1994 as a separate diagnosis from autism, which the DSM had included since the third edition in 1980. However, in the latest edition of the DSM, published in 2013, Asperger’s is no longer a separate diagnosis. Instead, it falls under the broader category of autism spectrum disorder that did not exist in prior editions.
Not everyone agrees with the reclassification of Asperger’s syndrome. Some people believe that it may do a disservice to children on the high-functioning side of the spectrum by grouping them with children who cannot live independently due to severe disability. There is also concern that children who would have previously had a diagnosis of Asperger’s may not get the support or services they need because they do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for ASD.
Adults who received a diagnosis of Asperger’s as children may not embrace the new ASD labeling. However, at least from a clinical point of view, the term Asperger’s has become essentially meaningless.