The Disappearance of Asperger’s Syndrome

Why and How Asperger Syndrome Will Disappear

With the American Psychiatric Association’s new Diagnostic Manual (DSM-5) due to come out sometime this year, the diagnostic term Asperger’s Syndrome will begin to disappear.

In an attempt to streamline the umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Disorder, the discrete subcategory term of Asperger’s will no longer exist, except in the minds of proponents of the term.

Personally I liked the term and it has meaning to me and many others, both professionals and those with the syndrome.

Instead of Asperger Syndrome, high functioning individuals with the core symptoms of autism (now defined essentially as repetitive behaviors and perseverative interests combined with sensory issues) will probably receive an “autism spectrum” diagnosis. It’s also likely that they’ll receive some sort of yet-to-defined extra term such as “without intellectual challenges.”

I’d love to hear from those who have an opinion on this one way or another.

On the DSM-5 site, you still have a couple of weeks left for you to register a comment on this.

About Sanford

Learning Disabilities specialist and Educational Consultant
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12 Responses to The Disappearance of Asperger’s Syndrome

  1. Pingback: Breakbelly » LD Resources » Blog Archive » The Disappearance of Asperger's Syndrome

  2. Dale Brown says:

    I am sad to see the term go, because the term “Asbergers” seemed significantly less stigmatized than Autism. For those of you with perceptual problems, by “above”, he means the DSM-5 word which is in red. Do the advocacy groups for Asbergers have model comments that we can use? This is not good news!

  3. Richard says:

    If memory serves in the early days of the Orton Dyslexia Society there was a lot of attention paid to defining “dyslexia” as a language disability coupled with higher than average IQ. In other words, there was a lot of effort made to separate people with language disabilities from people with language disabilities and other “cognitive challenges.” I understood this but always felt like it was creating an odd hierarchy so that a group of powerful parents would have a less embarrassing way to talk about their children.

    Then this hierarchy morphed into “my bright dyslexic kid” and then we had another piece of hierarchy: cognitively challenged kids with language disabilities, average or above average kids with language disabilities, and genius kids with language disabilities.

    Somehow this stuck me and strikes me as less than useful for the actual kids with language disabilities, more useful for parents who need to talk about their kids.

    I wrote about this and related questions a while back.

    This one in particular, including the comments seems to map a bit of this autism issue onto our area of language based learning differences:

  4. Pingback: LD Resources » Blog Archive » The Disappearance of Asperger's Syndrome | Untreated Info

  5. Sanford says:

    Richard, you’re right about the early days of defining dyslexia. In fact, the whole field of LD was defined similarly. There’s finally been much more research and consideration about the fallacies inherent in such reasoning and definitions.

    Docs Shaywitzs among others have been shining the light on the reality that LD can exist in people who test out with low average and less than average IQ’s. Without getting into the whole IQ debate right now, it’s been made clear for example that restricting LD to a discrepancy model, one that says you need a discrepancy between “aptitude” and “achievement” is too restrictive. Clearly and for example, the longer one doesn’t read (or much at all), the more likely it is that the same person will perform worse and worse on the language piece of IQ tests. When a student reads less, vocabulary acquisition tends to falls off. This path descends further down to disenfranchisement from school and sometimes learning in general.

    I just recently evaluated a young man (30’s) who had little discrepancy between his aptitude (IQ) and performance on things like reading, yet he clearly had a reading disability that was somewhat based on processing weaknesses.

    In any event, you’ve touched on the aspect of disability that can become elitist in it’s own fashion.

    In my experience however, the traits of Asperger’s Syndrome, particularly with it’s tendency towards logical and linear verbal expressive skills is diametrically opposed to the “classic autism” for whom verbal language is near the core of deficits. While they both share other common traits (social and sensory deficits), the distinctions always have seemed real to me.

    For some the distinction’s unnecessary and for some it’s their ticket to acceptance and self-acceptance. There’s a whole culture of “Aspies” and their supporters who use the term of Asperger’s to foster an appreciation for “cognitive diversity.”


    In the long run, this change will force people to describe behaviors, strengths and weaknesses, rather than rely of a descriptive label to imply or assume them.

  6. Sanford says:

    Dale, thanks for your comments and for the second “link” comment. I put one in subsequently 🙂

  7. Richard says:

    I agree, the distinctions are real as they are in the dyslexia world: there are people with dyslexia across the spectrum of intelligences, there are people with autism across the spectrum of social awareness. No doubt within the Asperger group there’s a range as well. The other end of the autism spectrum is so rough that I can see why folks with Asperger’s Syndrome would want to make the distinction but I also see why there is a movement to get rid of it and simply call the entire “class” a class with a spectrum. Maybe its time we did this for everyone and got rid of classes.

    Of course, this was the late Mel Levine’s idea and we can’t have that!

  8. Sanford says:

    OK Richard. Don’t get all egalitarian on us (kidding). Yes, Dr. Levine and others have long advocated for doing a better job describing the behaviors and performance issues relative to specific learning, (or as he called them “neuro-developmental) constructs. He and others advocate for better description and less reliance on the label.

    I’m a middle ground guy on this issue. I like that shift in emphasis and understand the need and value, politically and otherwise, in having a name above the descriptions.

  9. Betty Landry says:

    I have to agree there is a need to define the needs of the people and the level of Autism or Aspergers. I do not like labels on anyone but for help to be obtained some times you need to know where to look so you are not lead in the wrong direction.

  10. Sanford says:

    Good point Betty. Sometimes the finer details of a diagnostic label help get services or find the right people.

  11. Aika says:

    It’s 2019 now and Asperger syndrome diagnosis no longer exists by now. However, I think plenty of people, including clinicians, will still continue to use the term “Aspergers” for the foreseeable future. According to Erika Drezner of the Asperger/Autism Network, “We’re not going anywhere; we’re still here, and still helping people. We serve people and not their diagnosis!”

    • Sanford says:

      Aika, agreed. While I don’t use it anymore for diagnostic labels when doing evaluations, I use the descriptions of Asperger’s when talking about strengths and weaknesses. Autism Spectrum Disorder like all spectrum labels is only as good as the description of specific and functional strengths and weaknesses. Thanks for your comments.

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