What do Albert Einstein, Alfred Hitchcock and Charles Darwin all have in common? Apparently, they have all had Asperger’s disorder, according to the Hope Street Centre. In their time, mental health diagnoses and treatment had not advanced to properly treat disorders like Asperger’s. However, in our modern society, providing all children with the help they need must be a priority in order for the U.S. to move forward and provide equal opportunities to all children. Unfortunately, the newest change in the definition for Asperger’s syndrome might deny some children the extra help they need in their schools.
In December 2012, the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove Asperger’s syndrome from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, DSM-5, which is to be released later this year, according to Forbes. In this text, which is used by many psychiatrists in the U.S., the disease will become part of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and many speculate that children who were previously diagnosed with Asperger’s will no longer fit the qualifications that allow them to be eligible for extra help with social skills. This has the potential to affect up to 55 percent of those already diagnosed with Asperger’s, according to Forbes.
Asperger’s syndrome is currently defined as “a developmental disorder resembling autism that is characterized by impaired social interaction, by repetitive patterns of behavior and restricted interests, by normal language and cognitive development, and often by above average performance in a narrow field,” according to Merriam Webster dictionary. The DSM-4’s criteria for Asperger’s included an impairment in social capability, manifested in a lack of enjoyment in social activities and differences in facial expressions, according to the CDC. A wide range of people are diagnosed with Asperger’s, and it covers a wide range of severity in regards to social capability.
The DSM-5 Neurodevelopmental Disorders Workgroup is in favor of redefining the disorder because they feel it is necessary to categorize all autism-related conditions into one group, and because the previous criteria for diagnosing Asperger’s was unclear, according to Francesca Happe in SFARI. According to Dr. Taniya Pradhan, “People are getting an Asperger’s diagnosis, but they’re not really qualifying for services.” Asperger’s has commonly been thought to be similar to autism, though less severe, and the new definition might relate their similarities and make the change a welcome edit to medical diagnoses. The new definition has the potential to allow for a broader understanding and better diagnosis of the disorder.
However, the reclassification of this condition could prove to influence a dramatic change for students who have already been diagnosed with Asperger’s, and many yet to be diagnosed.
“Many children with the diagnosis of Asperger’s currently have difficulty qualifying for services because of their academic record,” Dr. Laurie Leventhal-Belfer said. “The challenge is that the type of services offered will also be dramatically limited.”
The renaming of Asperger’s syndrome could potentially hinder many student’s education, and will prevent some parents and children from receiving developmental and social help that could prove crucial to children’ success and education. According to Leventhal-Belfer, “Regardless of their diagnosis, they still might not qualify.”
It is important to move forward in psychological diagnoses and understanding of mental disorders, but it is not worth risking the education of children with mental conditions. The intent of research is to help those with disorders like Asperger’s and autism. If the move forward acts against them, then it acts against its original purpose, and the change should be further considered.