New revisions causes stir among Autism, Asperger’s community

by JD Bray |

The American Psychiatric Association proposed a controversial change in February to its manual that would make Asperger’s syndrome part of autism spectrum disorders rather than a separate diagnosis. In the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which helps health professionals identify conditions, it is not listed under autism.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of concern in the community about that,” said Angelo Martinez, executive director of The Jericho School, a private school in Jacksonville, Fla. that specializes in teaching children with autism and developmental disabilities. Students with autism at Flagler College would be impacted by revisions to the manual, but Martinez is unsure the changes are beneficial.

“I do think there should be a different diagnosis,” he said. “It can be potentially detrimental to children with Asperger’s and also to families who are trying to have a better understanding of their child with Asperger’s.”

The revisions are considered for the DSM’s fifth edition, which comes out in 2013.

Elizabeth Boyd, the college advocacy chair for Autism Speaks, a national autism advocacy organization, agrees with the proposed changes. “(Autism spectrum disorders) is just a term that’s used for the government to determine what services they have to pay for. It would give individuals with Asperger’s, specifically children, more access to services,” Boyd said.

Both of Boyd’s younger brothers have forms of autism and Asperger’s. But Asperger’s advocates think differently because of autism’s stigma.

“Mainly, the negative response that I’ve heard is from those who have very high-functioning children that they don’t want to be labeled as autistic,” she said. “They don’t want people to assume things. I can understand that, but it doesn’t make Asperger’s go away.”

Martinez agrees with the changes, but is concerned that children with Asperger’s will fall by the wayside. “It gives more understanding of people with pervasive development disorders, but children with Asperger’s are unique from those with autism,” he said.

Lynn Brueske-Walton, assistant professor psychology at Flagler College, thinks the issue should be about funding rather than autism’s stigma. “The changes will give those with Asperger’s treatment,” she said. “Right now, parents are having to pay out of pocket for diagnosis, treatments and medications.”

Martinez believes that the most difficult part is having parents understand the scope of the diagnoses. “There should be a separate diagnosis, but we’ve got to educate people about the issue at hand,” he said.

The American Psychiatric Association is currently accepting comments and recommendations on the draft for DSM-5.

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