Asperger’s Disorder is being put in the spotlight once more because of a change in the syndrome’s designation.
According to a press release sent by the FirstHealth of the Carolina’s, Asperger’s Disorder is a lifelong condition that can stabilize over time.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Asperger’s symptoms are: having trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings, having a hard time understanding body language, avoiding eye contact, wanting to be alone, or wanting to interact, but not know how, having narrow, sometimes obsessive, interests, talking only about themselves and their interests, speaking in unusual ways or with an odd tone of voice, having a hard time making friends, seeming nervous in large social groups, clumsiness or awkwardness, having rituals that they refuse to change, such as a very rigid bedtime routine, developing odd or repetitive movements, and having unusual sensory reactions.
Asperger’s Disorder was first discovered in the 1940s by Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger, according to the Autism Society. He observed autistic-like behaviors and difficulties with social and communication skills in boys who had normal intelligence and language development. Many professionals felt Asperger’s Disorder was simply a milder form of autism and used the term “high-functioning autism” to describe these individuals.
The differences between Asperger’s Disorder and Autism are the less severe symptoms and the absence of language delays that are associated with Asperger’s Disorder.
“They don’t pick up on subtleties of communication,” said David Ruck, M.D and a board certified psychiatrist with FirstHealth of the Carolinas.
He said, “They don’t understand jokes and puns.”
Ruck is affiliated with both the Moore Regional Hospital and Richmond Memorial Hospital in Rockingham, according to Emily Sloan, Assistant Director of Public Relations for FirstHealth of the Carolinas.
Despite these differences between the two, with the May 2013 publication of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), Asperger’s syndrome will lose its designation as an independent diagnosis and take a place on the autism spectrum. Because of the change, many parents are concerned that their child will lose access to critical educational and treatment opportunities.
Asperger’s syndrome, said Ruck, is a complicated condition that can have many symptoms and involve numerous treatment approaches. And, he points out, contrary to the fears of some parents of Asperger’s children, its imminent autism grouping shouldn’t have any effect on access to available services.
“It’s going to make diagnostic clarity,” he said of the change.
Created by the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM is a common-language guide of mental health disorders that outlines causes and related information as well as some research on treatment options. Many mental health professionals use the manual to determine and help communicate a diagnosis after an evaluation, and American hospitals, clinics and insurance companies generally require a five-level (axis) DSM diagnosis.
Under the current DSM-IV manual, children can be diagnosed either as having autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome or PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder — Not Otherwise Specified). In the new manual, however, all three disorders will fall under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Ruck agrees with mental health professionals and advocates who expect the change in status will be a positive one that could actually lead to an increase in services by clearing up ambiguities in diagnosis and treatment.
“It’s not expected to make a significant difference in educational services,” Ruck said. “It’s going to tighten up the criteria and get everybody reading off the same sheet of music.”
Asperger’s syndrome was thrust into the national spotlight in December 2012 with reports that the alleged gunman in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings had been diagnosed with the condition and that it somehow contributed to factors that led to the slayings of 26 students and school personnel. However, Ruck believes the attack required a level of planning and violence that is just as rare in individuals with Asperger’s as it is in the general population.
“In general, a kid with Asperger’s is no more likely than anyone else to show this explosive, targeted behavior,” Ruck said.
— Staff Writer Laura Edington can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at email@example.com.