Yes, I know that Aspergers doesn’t exist as a diagnosis in the USA any more, but I like the term “Aspergers” so much more than “Autism Level 1.”
What the DSM 5 Is
What am I talking about? If you’re already entrenched in the world of Autism, then you know that the American Psychiatric Association published a new version of their diagnostic manual about 1-1/2 years ago.
With the new version (edition 5), Autism Level 1 has replaced Aspergers as a diagnosis. That means that in the USA, people will not be newly diagnosed with Aspergers.
If you’ve never heard of this manual before, you can look it up on Amazon. It’s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, or DSM-5, published by the American Psychiatric Association. It’s what doctors use to categorize mental disorders in order to prescribe medications and therapies.
The DSM 5 is a classification system that explains what is and what isn’t a particular disorder. In it, you’ll find about 700 pages of diagnostic criteria that include things like Neurodevelopmental Disorders (of which Autism and ADHD are categorized), Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Depression, Anxiety, and more.
The previous version of the manual, the DSM 4, included Aspergers as a diagnosis that’s separate from Autism. However, we as a society have understood for years that Autism and Aspergers are on the same spectrum of behaviors, but the severity of behaviors are different.
Schools, for example, when they do their special education evaluation, don’t use the term “Aspergers.” Instead, they use “Autism.” When my son (Trio Man) was first evaluated by the school district, one of the specialists said, “Everyone’s on the Spectrum.”
How Aspergers Compares to Autism
Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but for me, “Aspergers” is a better descriptor than “Autism.”
Because Aspergers looks different from Autism.
An Aspergers kid looks like a typical kid.
An Autism kid does not look engaged.
An Aspergers kid wants to hang out with other kids (but doesn’t know how to).
An Autism kid is indifferent to other kids.
An Aspergers kid says things that are impolite.
An Autism kid may not talk at all.
The differences between Aspergers and Autism became clear to me when I led groups of Aspergers and Autism kids through Vacation Bible School. The Aspergers kids could be described as quirky kids. The kids with Autism were more obviously special needs.
What Aspergers Looks Like
Other parents have said to me:
“He doesn’t look like he has Autism.”
“I couldn’t tell that he has Autism.”
“He has Autism?”
I could respond by saying, “Thanks! but that’s probably because he has Level 1.” I would probably get the response, “Level what?”
Kids with Aspergers or Autism Level 1 are like typical kids (neurotypical–or NT) who are “a little off.”
They look like typical kids, but
- they don’t make eye contact or
they say something awkward or
they seem rather uncoordinated.
An Aspergers kid often talks like an adult ad nauseam about their favorite topic (that is, until you’re nauseous!)
They have excellent memories.
They are very concerned about fairness and justice.
They have attention problems (unless the topic is their special interest).
They don’t think ahead and therefore don’t adapt well to change.
They may be sensitive to sounds or touch.
They have uneven development.
And like all kids with Autism, they get absorbed in their special interest, whatever that may be.