By Jacob DC Ross
The new DSM-5 by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has done away with Asperger Syndrome as a separate diagnosis from autism. As an adult diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, I feel the old AS classification as a type of autism was like saying that breast cancer is a type of leukemia. To me, the new blanket diagnosis of autism seems a step in the wrong direction as far as diagnoses go. However, perhaps there is a positive side to what I hope will be a temporary situation.
The DSM-5 is the fifth edition of the APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In the United States, the DSM serves as a universal authority for the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders. Treatment recommendations, as well as payment by health care providers, are often determined by DSM classifications, so the appearance of a new version has significant practical importance, according to Wikipedia.
In folding the Autism Spectrum into a more general diagnosis, many folks have felt a sense of losing their identity. While this may be true, people with both AS and other forms of autism can benefit from having a more closely linked image. Currently, Aspies are portrayed in the media as the “fun” type of autism, with characters like Sheldon Cooper of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory or Abed Nadir from NBC’s Community being played for laughs. While we Aspies may be aware of our situation and have the good humor to laugh along, the general public does not have an accurate image of what truly a person with AS feels and experiences. Additionally, these media portrayals do little to encourage neurotypical people to learn more about the condition that they find so amusing.
Aspies may be able to leverage the mainstream media portrayal to shed some compassionate light on how others with autism are viewed. Although having a greater degree of social functionality, we often feel alienated in a group, or from the people with whom we share our lives. While Aspies can laugh at ourselves, we are more than our diagnoses and the joke can get tiresome.
The other positive aspect of the new DSM classification is that we might use this time to better identify with people on the other parts of the spectrum. More than most others, Aspies have a voice with which they can make their experiences, needs and inner selves known to the world. Children and adults with more severe forms of autism are often locked inside their own bodies, incapable of self expression. While it is wonderful to have a group identity and a unique voice, we could all do well to remember that we can help speak for those unable to speak for themselves.
Jacob DC Ross is a life-long Oregonian, writer, father and husband residing in Portland.