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Asperger’s Autism

December 7, 2007

I have seen several discussions recently which have debated the terms Asperger’s syndrome and Asperger’s disorder. Some people have wondered whether a new term could be found which would be more descriptive and less objectionable.

Why not simply use the term, Asperger’s autism? After all, “classical” autism is commonly called Kanner’s autism.

Personally speaking, I have changed all references on my site from Asperger’s syndrome to Asperger’s autism.

The problem with the term, high-functioning autism (HFA), is that, among researchers and clinicians, there are disagreements about whether HFA and Asperger’s refer to the same diagnostic entity. For instance, Asperger’s has a better “prognosis” than HFA. I posted a piece on that subject from a peer-reviewed journal a couple of days back.

I don’t care for either “disorder” or “syndrome.” Asperger himself used the term autism, so it may make some sense to incorporate it into the label.

I have access to a large database of academic articles through the college where I teach, and the term “Asperger’s” is commonly used by researchers. Since many of those researchers are the ones who will be deciding on the terminology to be used in the DSM-V, it would surprising to see “Asperger’s” simply dropped or replaced with another term.

Preparatory work for the DSM-V is now being done. If we are going to have a voice in what Asperger’s is going to be called in that document, we might want to consider these issues.

Granted, not everyone is interested in the subject of labeling, but some people do regard it as an area of concern.

I am also trying to get into the habit of referring to the spectrum of autisms and avoiding the word “disorders.”

My psychiatrist, whom I now just see to get my Lexapro and Remeron, told me that he does not distinguish between HFA and Asperger’s in adults. At this point, I probably do not agree with him.

As an academic, I don’t respond emotionally to the term “disorder.” I am interested in understanding, as objectively as possible, the “many voices” on the subject, including the voices of various persons and groups who might be anathema to certain people on this forum.

Personally, as someone who was diagnosed (back in the early and middle 1960s) with childhood schizophrenia, at a time when virtually all kids on the spectrum of autisms were given that same label, I find almost any other label to be a welcome relief.

On the other hand, I think that labels do sometimes matter, especially to, say, a child or young teenager who is being diagnosed with Asperger’s for the first time. They can also be important for influencing how the public, and social policy makers, relate persons on the spectrum.

Here is the first definition of “syndrome” from the Random House Unabridged Dictionary. It is similar to what I have seen elsewhere, including in medical dictionaries:

“Pathology, Psychiatry. a group of symptoms that together are characteristic of a specific disorder, disease, or the like.”

“Syndrome” is basically a euphemism for “disorder.”

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