Teacher Professor

February 14, 2010

Shift Happens

Filed under: Autism — Teacher Professor @ 10:39 am

Shift happens.  Although it won’t be “official” until the release of the revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association in 2012, the draft of the DSM that was released this week removes Asperger Syndrome as a separate category and places it firmly in the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).  The DSM is THE book that the medical community and the resultant educational and legal professionals use when determining placement, categories- and treatment.

Certainly, we’ve had warning.  In November, some of the authors spoke of it and discussed the possibility.  In my own book, I describe Asperger as being in the “High Functioning” category of ASD.  in the 1940s, Hans Asperger was doing his work at the same that Leo Kanner, the author of the “refrigerator mother” causation of autism, was doing his.  The major difference between the two groups was that Asperger’s children had language, while Kanner’s children did not.  Recent work since they has determined, though, that while children with Asperger Syndrome HAVE language, they do not USE it for two-way communication or social purposes like “typical” children.

Asperger Syndrome is relatively new to the DSM, only appearing in 1994 under a separate category.  It has acquired a certain cachet since then. People such as Einstein and Edison are suspected of having the disorder.  There is a certain relationship with giftedness that it implies.  It infers a certain amount of functionality.  It gives a label to people like my friend “Jerry” who had to be told “You need to leave now” at the end of a party- friends who are quirky and odd and not good with social cues.  It provides a certain “geek chic” to the label.  However, the reality is that many, many children with Aspergers do not do well in school, do not have the friends who accept them, and are not budding computer geniuses.  Some are- but the stereotype does not fit most children with Aspergers.

Because Aspergers was not classified under autism, it got a chance to “”grow up” in the public perception away from the shadow of the autism label.  People could tell friends and teachers that their child had Aspergers without the baggage that the term “autism” carries with it.

Now, Aspergers is moving into the dorm with autism, in all of its multi-colored, diverse splendor.  While the range of autism is understood by many to have spread out, to include children who can learn, who can talk, who can function, there are a large number of people who still think of children with autism as children who should be institutionalized, restrained, and de-humanized.

It’s the inclusion/desegregation movement being brought to the medical community.  Classrooms are no longer for “white, typical” kids, but are diverse culturally, racially, and in ability.  As we as a society recognize that people come in many, many different variations, the medical community is also trying to create umbrellas of terms that allow for room in the label- thus, we now have a “autism spectrum disorder” that includes Aspergers and classic autism and PDD-NOS, rather than a single point of variation.  The good news for many children is that with the change comes services- services that were previously “only” for children with autism should now be available for children with Aspergers.

The fear that some have of lumping Aspergers in with autism? Well, that’s a public relations problem now,not a medical or educational issue now.  I vote for hiring a PR professional to handle that.  Autism Speaks is doing a pretty good job… Welcome to Autism, Aspergers!

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