DSM Messed Up Asperger's
I feel absolutely stunned by the latest news about Asperger's Syndrome. Someone out there has created a stereotype which is very difficult to return back from.
The DSM manual is the source of all knowledge about mental disorders. Toni Collette's character regularly refers to it in the movie Mental. But more importantly, it's what every psychologist uses. The latest addition of this book has made a dramatic change towards labelling people as something they are not.
CBS News reported the latest DSM will group Asperger's Syndrome as one of the Autism Spectrum disorders. Asperger's will no longer be a disorder of its own. This is completely outrageous because Aspies are not necessarily Autistic. Pure "low-functioning" Autism can involve not speaking at all. It can be illustrated by, but not limited to, the Rain Man. Autistic people can be friendly and happy just like anyone else. But there is one thing they are not: they're not exactly the same as people with Asperger's. AS is the high functioning version. It could be so subtle that people will never notice someone has it. The two are on totally different ends of a spectrum. It would be like calling shoulder-length hair long. Yes it might relatively be labelled that way, but it's actually an un-useful stereotype.
There are great benefits to being diagnosed with Asperger's, especially at a young age. So many kids struggle to fit in at school. AS becomes a crucial explanation to help those kids better understand how their perspectives differ from the perspectives of other kids. It's also a way for people of all ages to identify their weaknesses in regards to team work, and then to improve those weaknesses. AS is not a limitation, it is a description. It is often easy to pick when someone is Autistic, but not when they're Aspie.
If you called me Autistic, that would sound crazy. The Autism Awareness site lists a few differences for Asperger's. It says there should be no "clinically significant" delay in language skills or other age appropriate skills. The lists of signs sound very similar. But the agreed difference was that one looked 'high functioning' and 'high intelligence.' The other was more 'low functioning.'
Who knows where we will go from here, and how the changed DSM will change the perception we have of the two labels. Suppose the writers simply wanted to narrow the range of people who are qualified for extra assistance (separate exam room at school or whatever else). Maybe there were economic motives behind it. But there is no way this could improve society's perceptions.