Remember a few years ago, when blogging has just emerged as the new rage, and kids from all around the world were broadcasting live updates on their emotions and daily activities? Around that time, Asperger’s disorder, a new condition on the autistic spectrum was making headlines, first across the United States, then all over the world. Coincidentally or not, this was also around the time when the ‘emo’ fad trend also emerged. This featured specific sartorial markers, such as the profuse usage of black eyeliner and black nail polish – to signal a preoccupation with the darker side of the human psyche – but also drew attention to a nation, nay, a world of teenagers feeling socially inept, misfits, outcasts, and generally inadequate from a societal standard perspective.
It was perhaps not arbitrary that this also marked a boom in the number of Asperger’s self-diagnoses, followed by actual diagnoses confirmed by doctors. However, now that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (popularly known in short as the DSM) is receiving its first definition update in twelve years’ time, it seems that the experts that basically rule over the fate of therapy on a global level have decided the disorder is not going to make the cut. At the moment, psychiatrists from around the world employ the DSM as a set of binding guidelines that help them diagnose patients and establish the course and cost of their treatment. Also, on the other side of the health care industry fence, private health insurance providers are also making use of the same manual, in order to determine which types of psychiatric treatment qualify for coverage and which ones don’t.
Starting with the all-new, fully revised version of the DSM, which is expected to come out in 2013, Asperger’s will no longer be featured as a stand-alone disease. Instead, the authors have decided it will be lumped in under the ‘autism spectrum disorder’ definition. While Asperger’s was, indeed, regarded as a condition on the autistic spectrum, this amassing will put people who can’t function properly in social contexts in the same category with children who are sufferers of severe autism. Indeed, many voices in the field have claimed, throughout the years, that these otherwise highly functioning adults could just as well be suffering from social anxiety disorder, a phobia that prevents people to function properly in social contexts. However, Bayside Psychotherapy experts warn that social anxiety disorder is a different condition altogether, which has nothing to do with autism. Furthermore, it should not be taken lightly, since sufferers are often plagued with such symptoms as hyperventilation, IBS, and incontrollable twitching. Unlike Asperger’s, on the other hand, social anxiety disorder has never been included in the DSM, yet features in other prestigious diagnostic tools, such as editions 9 and 10 of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.
Pleas against what they perceive as an unjust decision have been expressed by sufferers and health care experts from around the world, and Australia has joined the chorus of disgruntled voices. One 40 year-old Asperger’s patient says removing the definition will set the movement for treating this condition back by decades, and blames the decision on insufficient advocacy for awareness. Furthermore, Dr Julie Peterson brings to the limelight the issue of associating Asperger’s with the negative stereotypes regarding autistic spectrum disorders (viz. Rainman).
Last, but certainly not least, the manager of Autism Spectrum Australia (or ASA), Dr Vicki Gibbs, took a more moderate approach to the decision. She acknowledged the worries expressed by sufferers, but added that the decision was justified by the relatively small differences between high functioning autism patients and sufferers of Asperger’s. According to ASA, one in 100 Australians suffers from disorders on the autism spectrum.
Photo Credit: Image Editor (CC BY 2.0)
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