You may have heard that as of May 2013, a new version of the manual used by professionals for the diagnosis of mental and developmental disorders (DSM) was brought out. With this new manual, the way we look at a few developmental disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) changed. Instead of these disorders being recognized separately, they were combined under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This has caused some confusion for individuals who were diagnosed with one of these disorders and to parents of children with these disorders. If this might be you, you’re probably wondering what this change means. Below we’ll discuss what this means for you and where to go from here.
Why did they change it?
As even the experts in mental health and development do not know everything there is to know about these disorders, the DSM is an ever changing document that is updated when research reveals new information. The reason that this particular change was made was because they found that specialists were inconsistent on how they diagnosed PDD and Asperger’s Syndrome. And where there is inconsistency, there is the chance that people are being incorrectly diagnosed or missing out on a diagnosis when they should have been given the right one. There was also inequality in the support provided to people with these diagnoses; some would receive support easily, while others were denied. It was found that Asperger’s and ASD shared a lot of symptoms but differed in terms of the severity of these symptoms, so it seemed appropriate to combine them under one name and put them on a spectrum.
Does that mean now it doesn’t exist?
No, just because they have made this change does not mean that you or your child no longer have a diagnosis. It also does not mean that all your difficulties were imagined or in your head only. It simply means that these difficulties come under another name. Instead of Asperger’s Syndrome or PDD, they are all considered ASD and this encapsulates difficulties with social integration, communication and repetitive or unusual behaviours.
What does this mean for me or my child with a diagnosis of Asperger’s?
- Do we have to get rid of the name? No. Some people begin to define themselves by their diagnoses. So, it’s understandable that being told you can no longer use this name can be difficult. If you would prefer to hold on to this name you can. Your specialist can use both the name of Asperger’s Syndrome and ASD so that you can still gain the support offered for ASD while holding on to the diagnosis that you are originally identified with.
- Do we have to be re-diagnosed? No. For people with a well established, pre-existing diagnosis of PDD or Asperger’s Syndrome they can be given a diagnosis of ASD. It may be beneficial though to re-visit your specialist as depending on the severity rating of ASD as there may be a higher level of support required and offered.
- What about the stigma? Some people may worry that people will see them or their child as less intelligent because of a diagnosis of ASD opposed to Asperger’s Syndrome. This is an incorrect belief though. Although ASD can involve developmental delays and this can impact academic ability, this is not a given. As ASD is a spectrum, children with the same diagnosis can differ greatly and may not experience all of the same symptoms. Like with any disorder, there is stigma attached and the best way to tackle this is by educating others about ASD.
- So what does change? Other than the name, not much. You or your child should still be entitled to all of the support services you may be receiving already and for some people, having a diagnosis coming under ASD may actually open up more support services.