Asperger’s syndrome hasn’t been an official diagnosis since 2013. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-V) was published that year and declared that anyone who’d been diagnosed with Asperger’s — a mild, high-functioning form of autism — should be diagnosed instead with autism spectrum disorder. Although Asperger’s, the syndrome named after Austrian researcher Hans Asperger, was added to the DSM only 19 years earlier, subsequent research had shown it didn’t differ enough from other types of autism to warrant a separate diagnosis.
So, just like that, Asperger’s syndrome — estimated to affect 37.2 million people worldwide — was wiped off the books in the U.S.
Yet, six years later, the term persists. Thousands of Americans, young and old alike, continue to identify as a person who has Asperger’s. Some even call themselves “Aspies.”
“There has been pushback from the Asperger’s community because many people view it less as a diagnosis and more as their identity,” says Adam McCrimmon, Ph.D., an autism researcher and psychology professor at the University of Calgary. “They have friends with Asperger’s, go to Aspie conferences, and belong to Aspie networks. So, when scientists began saying it was no longer an official diagnosis, they said ‘no, we have Asperger’s; we are Aspies.’”
Many parents also prefer the term “Asperger’s” to autism spectrum disorder. They find it easier to accept and understand than a broad umbrella diagnosis — especially when their child does not have the cognitive and language limitations that many other autistic children do. “On one hand, it can absolutely be a relief when your child gets a milder diagnosis,” says Edith Sheffer, Ph.D., a historian at the University of California, Berkeley; author of Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna; and mother of child who’d been diagnosed with Asperger’s. “Plus, Asperger’s has a connotation of superperson or savant powers.”
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