Although Asperger’s is no longer a standalone diagnosis (as of 2013 when it became ‘one’ with Autism Spectrum Disorder/ASD), it is still important to understand what the term means, as some people who received a past diagnosis of Asperger syndrome continue to use this terminology to refer to themselves today.*
*This being because their diagnosis forms an important part of their identity- it is how they came to understand themselves- and they don’t want to sacrifice that, (the sense of self they have achieved) , just because the term is no longer deemed to be ‘politically correct.’
So, what is Asperger’s then?
First identified by Austrian Pediatrician Hans Asperger in 1944, ‘Asperger’s’ was a term originally used to describe high-functioning autism. It was used when referring to children with milder symptoms- better developed social and motor skills and fewer speech and language problems- than their autistic peers. Hans identified these children as having a condition similar to, but undoubtedly unique from, autism…
A brief summary of the diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s (from the previous version of the DSM):
- Having difficulty with verbal or nonverbal communication, such as eye contact or sarcasm
- Having few or no long-term social relationships with peers
- Lack of interest in taking part in activities or interests with others
- Showing little to no response to social or emotional experiences
- Having a sustained interest in a single special topic or very few topics
- Strict adherence to routine or ritual behaviors
- Repetitive behaviors or movements
- Intense interest in specific aspects of objects
- Experiencing difficulty in maintaining relationships, jobs, or other aspects of daily life
- Not having any delay in language learning or cognitive development typical of other, similar neurodevelopmental conditions.
These symptoms now fall under the umbrella term of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).
The main reason why Asperger’s isn’t used as a standalone term today is due to the controversy that exists surrounding Hans Asperger (who first identified the term and for whom the term is named after). Hans is known to have worked with the Nazis during the Holocaust. His abhorrent descriptions of some autistic children as being less ‘worthwhile’ than others led to dozens of children being sent to a Nazi ‘euthanasia’ clinic, where they were ultimately murdered as a direct result of his actions. He justified such statements in line with the Nazi regime’s murderous ideology of ‘racial purity’.
Although the term has largely been ‘phased out’- what was once known as Asperger’s now, today, being known as ‘ASD’- as is true with all labels, it is, ultimately, our choice to decide on how we want to refer to ourselves…
As Autism is, unfortunately, still a very loaded term and one that continues to be shrouded with unhelpful, and potentially very damaging, stereotypes, it’s no surprise that people look to other labels, such as Asperger’s, to describe themselves. I for one see no problem in this (controversial?), because, in a world as confusing and messy and ‘up and down’ as ours, whatever helps us all to feel more comfortable, to feel more ‘affirmed’ in our sense of self (providing that it doesn’t hurt other people), we should be embracing, wholeheartedly.
So, as in my last post when I said; ‘The choice is yours, but it’s good to have the option’, the same applies here…
Autism, or Neurodivergency,
Autism, ASD, or Asperger’s,