We've seen this coming for the past two years, but the American Psychiatric Association has finally made it official: The upcoming DSM-V — the so-called bible of psychiatry — will no longer be including Asperger's syndrome as an official diagnosis. Instead, it will be subsumed within the broader definition of "autism spectrum disorder." The change is being met with mixed reactions, but some Aspies, like psychology student Joshua Muggleton, say it's an important adjustment whose time has come.
Opponents worry that the absence of Asperger's will exclude some people from being properly diagnosed. Others fear that they won't get the treatments, funding, and services that are required.
Even Muggleton, who now welcomes the change, was resistant at first. He worried that its absence would impose a big and unwanted change to his identity. But looking at the issue more closely, he decided to set his personal views aside and investigate how it is that we classify Asperger's syndrome. Writing in the Guardian:
Contrary to my views as an Aspie, after looking at the research I was forced to conclude that actually, the DSM-V is a big step in the right direction. For years, studies have been suggesting that autism and Asperger's syndrome are the same condition, differentiated only by level of impairment. It's what I see in everyday life too. My brother, for example, clearly has some form of autism, but could fit both diagnoses equally well. Therefore, it does seem to be a positive move.
While from a professional and (somewhat begrudgingly) a personal standpoint I can support the DSM-V, I still have concerns. I worry what will happen to people like myself who currently have a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome. Will this diagnosis be continued in good faith, or will I have to be assessed for an autism spectrum condition? If I do have to be re-assessed, there is a good chance that myself and many like me will come out without any form of diagnosis. While for me, Asperger's syndrome does not cause any significant impairment, it is still a very different way of thinking to everybody around me. What then should I call it? A personality quirk?
Others may not be so lucky. Some people with Asperger's syndrome may lose any sort of diagnostic label, but still require support, which they can only access via a diagnosis. Here I have to trust that doctors and administrators will use their discretion to ensure that people who need support will still be able to access it, even if they don't meet all of the new diagnostic criteria.
Muggleton admits that the term is not going to be lost overnight, and that it could take nearly a decade for it to disappear completely from the popular vernacular.
As for where this all leaves him, he says it won't end the camaraderie he feels with his fellow Aspies. "Instead, I feel we are opening up the fraternity of Aspie to our autistic friends... I will be proud to call myself someone on the autistic spectrum," he concludes.
Read Muggleton's entire OpEd at the Guardian.