Among other proposed changes to the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, due in 2013, Asperger's, PDD-NOS, and all the other diagnoses on the spectrum would be classified as Autism Spectrum Disorders, instead of having separate entries. I have no problem with this: it makes sense to refer to all those shades of functionality - from Aspergian genius to the most severely-affected, wordless recluse - as points on the same spectrum.
But some folks with Asperger's are upset about this change, because they don't want to have to call themselves Autistic. I read this on NPR's site
, and it annoyed me a bit:
But the change is going to be hard for some people with Asperger's, says Michael John Carley, executive director of the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership in New York and author of Asperger's From the Inside Out.
"I personally am probably going to have a very hard time calling myself autistic," says Carley, who was diagnosed with Asperger's years ago.
Many people with Asperger's take pride in a diagnosis that probably describes some major historical figures, including Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, Carley says. Under the new system, those people would represent just one extreme of a spectrum. On the other extreme is "somebody who might have to wear adult diapers and maybe a head-restraining device. This is very hard for us to swallow," he says.
Yet Carley says he agrees with the decision to fold Asperger's into the autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. I'm certainly glad that Aspies like Mr. Carley are proud of this element of their personal identities, but they could do a great service for others elsewhere on the spectrum by embracing them. Maybe if high-functioning people tell the world, "Hey, this is autism, too," they would help to reduce the stigma for those in the middle of the spectrum, like Ryan. By showing neurotypical people that individuals with autism are characterized not only by their challenges but also by their strengths, they would help foster understanding from NTs and self-esteem in people with mid-functioning autism.
Someone at Psychiatric Times pissed me off, too. Explaining why she thinks lumping Asperger's in with other ASDs, she writes: Those with Asperger’s (which is much less impairing) will be stigmatized by the association with classic autistic disorder.
It's this stigma that we have to work on. I hope that the proposed changes to the DSM-5 take a significant step toward that end.