Asperger syndrome will soon be dropped from the psychiatrists' Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders — the guide for diagnosing mental conditions used throughout the country and throughout the world. Symptoms for the condition will now be lumped in with the newly added "autism spectrum disorder," a term that is already used widely. It may help alleviate some paperwork, but is this really the right decision for those affected by Asperger?
Prior to the new revisions, autism and Asperger syndrome were distinct diagnoses. People with Asperger syndrome are typically highly intelligent with a vast knowledge on narrow subjects but they lack social skills. Autism, on the other hand, is harder to define. Children who suffer from the condition generally have a hard time interacting socially and may also have difficulty with language skills and behavior. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) said in a statement that the decision to lump Asperger syndrome in with autism under the new label "autism spectrum disorder" would help to "more accurately and consistently diagnose children with autism."
But some parents worry that the new label will affect what services their children will qualify for and what medical tests will be covered by their insurance. The DSM is used as the "bible" of mental disorders and often shapes the kind of care patients receive.
Lori Sherry, president of the Asperger Syndrome Education Network, told the New York Times in March, "Our fear is that we are going to take a big step backward. If clinicians say, 'These kids don't fit the criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis,' they are not going to get the supports and services they need, and they're going to experience failure."
Tiffany Washko of Nature Moms has one child with Asperger syndrome and another who might. She is OK with the change as long as it doesn't affect her son's access to the services he needs at school. "It IS autism ... just high functioning," she noted. But she also knows first hand how different the needs are for a kid with Asperger than they are for kids with autism. "It may help with paperwork to lump everyone together but it might not be the best idea for the kids," she added.
The DSM revisions are the first major rewrite to the psychiatrists' manual in nearly 20 years. The changes were approved by the APA on Saturday and will come into effect in May 2013 when the DSM-V is published.
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