Looking for a Home: The search for an alternative to “Asperger’s Syndrome”

The task of finding an alternative name for what was formerly referred to as Asperger’s Syndrome is undoubtedly a complex and challenging endeavour. This challenge stems from the intricacies of capturing the essence of a unique cognitive profile within the broader autism spectrum while avoiding any unintended negative connotations or exclusionary subtext.


Historical Background: Positioning within the Autism Spectrum

Previously, (1) Asperger’s Syndrome occupied the position of the highest-functioning form within the autism spectrum. It was one of the five major types of autism recognized, along with (2) Rett syndrome, (3) childhood disintegrative disorder, (4) Kanner’s syndrome, and (5) pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified. This classification highlighted the spectrum’s wide-ranging characteristics, each with its own unique manifestations and challenges.

The trajectory of Asperger’s Syndrome took another turn when it was retired as an individual diagnosis in subsequent editions of influential publications. Specifically, the DSM-5 in 2013 and the ICD11 in 2019 incorporated Asperger’s Syndrome into the encompassing diagnosis of “autism spectrum disorder.” This shift signalled the recognition of the interconnectedness and shared attributes among the various autism subtypes.

The Quest for a New Identity: Exploring Alternative Names

In the journey to find a suitable term for Asperger’s Syndrome, it has been categorized under various names that attempt to capture the unique characteristics of this condition. “High Functioning Autism” is one such term that has been associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. This label aims to convey the idea that individuals with this subtype of autism possess advanced cognitive abilities and linguistic skills, though they may still encounter challenges in social interactions and communication. Additionally, “Autism Level 1” has been proposed to denote the mildness of the symptoms, positioning Asperger’s Syndrome as a subtype within the broader autism spectrum.

The proposed alternative name “Neurodivergent Autism” underscores the inclusive spirit of the neurodiversity movement, aiming to honour the diversity of cognitive styles within the autism community. However, as rightly pointed out, this term does indeed encompass the entire autism spectrum, potentially losing the specificity that was inherent in the term “Asperger’s Syndrome.”

The suggested alternative, “Distinctive Autism,” provides a fresh perspective that acknowledges the individuality and unique characteristics associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. By using the word “distinctive,” this term conveys the notion that this specific subtype of autism possesses its own set of strengths, challenges, and qualities that set it apart. While this term offers a more focused understanding, it remains crucial to ensure that it is well-received by the very community it seeks to represent.

Integration into Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Diagnosis: A Shift in Perception

In a significant shift, the symptoms and attributes once attributed to Asperger’s Syndrome are now incorporated into the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This alteration reflects the evolving understanding of the diverse range of autism-like disorders that exist. While some healthcare providers may still employ the term “Asperger’s Syndrome,” others prefer to use the phrase “ASD – without intellectual or language impairment” to emphasize the individualized nature of the condition.

Conclusion: Embracing the Complexity of Neurodiversity

As the terminology surrounding Asperger’s Syndrome continues to evolve, it underscores the complexity of accurately capturing the nuances within the autism spectrum. The journey from Asperger’s Syndrome to “High Functioning Autism,” “Autism Level 1,” and its eventual integration into Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis signifies the ongoing efforts to foster inclusivity and ensure a more comprehensive understanding of the diverse experiences that individuals on the autism spectrum encounter. While the name “Asperger’s Syndrome” may have been retired as an individual diagnosis, its legacy lives on among those who were previously diagnosed, reminding us of the ever-evolving nature of neurodiversity and the significance of compassionate understanding.

The difficulty in finding a new name for any aspect of the autism spectrum lies in the multifaceted nature of the condition itself. Autism is not a monolithic entity; it’s a spectrum that encompasses a wide range of experiences, challenges, and strengths. Asperger’s Syndrome, which has now been integrated into the larger umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), represents a unique subset within this spectrum.

Any alternative name must strike a balance between honouring the past, accurately reflecting the diverse experiences of individuals within this subgroup and avoiding unintended negative implications. The process requires active engagement and consultation with the neurodiverse community, including those who were previously diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Their insights are invaluable in ensuring that the chosen terminology truly encapsulates their experiences and identity without perpetuating any harmful stereotypes or inadvertently erasing their unique challenges.

In navigating this challenge, it is crucial to remember that language has immense power. The chosen term will not only shape the perception of this specific subgroup of autism but will also influence public understanding and attitudes toward neurodiversity as a whole. By respecting the voices and preferences of those most directly affected, we can hope to find an alternative that not only accurately represents their experiences but also contributes to a more inclusive and empathetic society.