Why was Asperger’s Syndrome Folded into Autism Spectrum Disorder?

In 1994, Asperger’s Syndrome was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and for years, those with “high functioning autism” were diagnosed with Asperger’s. But in May 2013, Asperger’s Syndrome was officially removed from the DSM. Instead, there is just one category for people with autism — Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The spectrum also includes a numerical range of levels 1 – 3. 

  • Level 1: This would include those who had previously been diagnosed with Asperger’s. A level 1 diagnosis would mean the person is high functioning and in need of little to no support
  • Level 2: Someone diagnosed at level 2 would need regular or ongoing support, but still be able to do many things for themselves. 
  • Level 3: This is considered the most severe level of autism. People diagnosed at level 3 may be nonverbal or lack communication skills, or have severe physical limitations. 

Why was Asperger’s Removed from the DSM? 

There’s widespread agreement amongst professionals that autism is a spectrum — no two individuals with ASD will have the same intellectual levels, language abilities, or physical capabilities. 

Ultimately, the decision to eliminate Asperger’s Syndrome from the DSM was based on inclusion. Rather than create narrow, divided categories, researchers believed it would be more beneficial to have one all-embracing diagnosis of ASD. 

What Happens to Those Previously Diagnosed with Asperger’s? 

Anyone who was formally diagnosed with Asperger’s is now said to have Autism Spectrum Disorder. But while that may be the technical answer, it’s not the cultural one. People with Asperger’s have written books about their lives, television shows have depicted characters with asperger’s, and organizations have been created to assist those with Asperger’s — all things that can’t and won’t vanish overnight. 

While the term doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, many still believe eliminating Asperger’s Syndrome from the DSM was a step in the right direction for inclusivity and acceptance! 

Debra Solomon, a life and career coach, helps young adults with autism and other learning disabilities identify their strengths and weaknesses to help find a job that best fits them! For more information about Debra Solomon’s coaching practice, visit her on the web.