Thursday, February 11, 2010

Autism. Aspergers, And Definitions: Names Don't Really Matter

Recently the news has been covering a new designation of those with Aspergers syndrome, placing them officially within the Autism spectrum.  Psychologists have long placed them within the spectrum, but they were given their own designation because Aspergers was first identified back in the 1940's.  And now it seems that those with Aspergers are upset by getting placed within the Spectrum officially.  It's almost as though they are losing their identity, their unique place in the world.

Personally, I don't think clinical labels matter in the day to day life of those with Autism.  They still struggle in social settings, have difficulty communicating clearly, and continue to think in a completely different way than neurotypical minds.  But the designations do have some importance, which is why I doubt you will see Aspergers, or any other syndrome attributed to Autism, be completely wiped clean in favor of the general Spectrum designation. 

Firstly, they help clinical psychologists, special education teachers, physicians, and school psychologists know how to best approach a child emotionally, physically, and academically.  Those with Aspergers are less likely to react violently than those with more acute or severe forms of Autism.

Secondly, as genetic research begins to unravel the complex puzzle of the Spectrum, we will most likely find that different genes or gene combinations comprise individual disorders.  This will be huge, and I see it coming down the pipe within the next 10 to 20 years.  Therefore the diagnosis of Aspergers will no longer be based solely on behavior, but also on firm genetic testing.  This will mean very early intervention, early training, and far more success stories of Autistic children being mainstreamed into an education system that will be prepared for their individual needs. 

And lastly, I feel that the designation will live on because those with Aspergers want it to continue.  It's a sign of their unique view of the world, and one that has become a badge of honor.  For that reason, the name will not go away. 

So while the news may be looking for the next big story, the inclusion of Aspergers officially into the Autism Spectrum doesn't make a whole lot of difference.  After all, as Shakespeare penned, "A rose by any other name doth smell as sweet", and a mind, no matter how it is defined, is just as powerful. 

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