Proposed Changes to Diagnostic Criteria for Asperger's Syndrome

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • In 1994, Asperger's syndrome was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a disorder separate from autism. Not 20 years later, it has been proposed that Asperger's syndrome be listed under an umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. If this change takes place, the words "Asperger's syndrome" will no longer be found in the DSM.

    Current Diagnostic Criteria

    Currently, the DSM lists the following diagnostic criteria for Asperger's syndrome:

    Significant impairment in social interactions. Must have at least two of the following:

    Repetitive behaviors, interests and activities. Must have at least one of the following:

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    • Intense preoccupation with one or more interests
    • Requiring strict routines/rituals
    • Repetitive movements
    • Strong interest in parts of objects

    The DSM also states that there is no significant delay in either language or cognitive development in children with AS.

    Arguments for Proposed Changes

    Many experts believe that the only difference between Asperger's syndrome and autism is the lack of language delays. The other differences, they conclude, are not really differences but are different levels of the same impairment, for example, while social skills are not as impaired in people diagnosed with AS, there is still impairment, just to a lesser degree than those diagnosed with autism. Those that agree with the proposed changes believe that all mental disorders, not just autism, have symptoms ranging from mild to severe and that AS is a mild, or high-functioning, form of autism. Some children may begin with a diagnosis of autism but as they learn skills, their diagnosis may change to Asperger's syndrome. The change in classification will eliminate the need to change the diagnosis. In some states, children and adults diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome are not eligible for county intervention services. Changing their diagnosis to autism will automatically make then eligible to receive help.

    Arguments Against the Proposed Changes


    Those individuals who are against the change believe that those diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome are more capable and less disabled than those diagnosed with autism. They believe the classification should remain separate to identify those who have higher functioning. A diagnosis of autism, they believe, will create discrimination in employment and school because they will be seen as less capable. There is also a belief that because one of the main symptoms of autism is delayed speech, that children who do not have delayed speech will not receive a diagnosis and will miss receiving intervention programs.

    What do you think? Do you think the proposed changes will impact you or your family members who are diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome?

Published On: July 29, 2011