Changing the labels: From Asperger’s to autistic

Back when I started this blog, I did a series of posts about how Asperger’s Syndrome is defined, using the guidelines in the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM-IV for short:

The 4th edition was published in 1994, and it was the first edition to attempt to provide diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s syndrome– it uses six such traits to define Asperger’s.  (Note that it doesn’t try to explain why these traits are associated with Asperger’s, or what causes Asperger’s, or what people with Asperger’s should do/not do.  These questions are all outside its scope.  It’s merely trying to give a list of characteristics to look for.)

It’s important to remember that books like the DSM-IV are meant to provide labels for grouping people into categories based on outward signs like abilities, behavior, and what a person says about him or herself.  A label like “Asperger’s syndrome” is a tool that can be used wisely or unwisely, and as scientists learn more, they sometimes find that they want to adjust their system of labels.

That’s the case here, with the fifth edition of the manual being put together.  It’s set to be published in 2013, but a lot of the decisionmaking about the DSM-V is happening now.  The APA released an overview of the proposed changes to the public in February, and they are taking public comments until April 20.

One of the changes is that there will no longer be a separate diagnosis for Asperger’s Syndrome. Rather, there will be a single category labeled “Autism Spectrum Disorder” that includes both “classical” autism and Asperger’s syndrome (as well as two other diagnoses).  The rationale for this is that it had proven impossible to draw a clear dividing line between these different categories.

It has been interesting to read the reactions of people on the autistic spectrum to this news.  Some people think it’s a positive move that more accurately represents reality, while others are worried about how it will change people’s perceptions of them.  I think I might try posting about this in more detail.

For one thing, I’m wondering if this means I should change the site’s heading to “the musings of an autistic Christian.”  Of course, nothing has changed about me; just the label is different.

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