Kate E. Reynolds

  • A few thoughts about AS as an ASD

    Last year it was announced that Asperger syndrome as a separate category of diagnosis would be subsumed into a diagnosis of ‘autism spectrum disorder’ (ASD). This heralded enormous discussion. At 2012’s Autism Show in London I heard what appeared to be debate involving snobbery about the need for the label Asperger syndrome to be retained, rather than a meaningful discussion about the pros and cons of amalgamating the condition into the umbrella term of ASD.

    It seemed that those with Asperger syndrome didn’t want to be associated with a medical condition (autism) that included those with intellectual disabilities and speech delay. Asperger syndrome itself is defined by impairments of:

    1. Social communication skills.

    2. Social interaction.

    3. Social imagination.

    These features are the same as those who have ‘classic’ autism, but to different degree or with differing emphasis. The critical differentiation between Asperger syndrome and classic autism’ /autism disorder is that the former do not have language delay and have typical intellectual and self-care abilities. Typical language acquisition and ability to manage daily living are the reasons why AS is generally diagnosed later in life, whereas classic autism is usually spotted in childhood. It is worth noting, though, that higher functioning autism is only different to Asperger syndrome in that those with HFA have significant language delay but otherwise have intellectual and self-care skills, like those with AS.

    The snobbery I referred to, I believe is based on a need for people with AS to disassociate themselves from any notions of intellectual disabilities. In the UK we often refer to these as ‘learning disabilities/difficulties’. Interestingly, it’s not just those with AS who attempt to draw a line between themselves and people with intellectual challenges. In the general population there are many who would carve a real gulf between the ‘normal’ populations and those who with learning difficulties who are seen as almost alien. This kind of attitude served well the idea that those with intellectual disabilities should be hived off into institutions. Since the 1990s in the UK we’ve dismantled the largest of these institutions, supposedly forging a path for their residents to live in the community either independently but usually in smaller units. Yet we often hear of local communities campaigning to ensure such people do not reside near their homes for fear house prices might fall and citing other issues. Incidents also occur when people with learning difficulties aren’t tolerated in general society, including cases where these people are attacked physically or mentally in their communities.

    As a mother to one child who has classic autism/autism disorder and severe speech delay and another child with Asperger syndrome, I see the similarities between the conditions daily. It makes complete sense to me to have one umbrella under which several diagnoses exist, including AS and classic autism.

    Those with Asperger syndrome, doubtless, have improved the situation of those with classic autism/autism disorder by verbalising some of the difficulties they face from non-spectrum society. This information has fed into methods of teaching and enabling more profoundly affected people to achieve social and daily living skills. Yet many people with AS would rather disassociate themselves from the latter grouping.

    Some argue that those with AS will receive less recognition for their condition if it is subsumed under the title of an autism spectrum disorder. If anything, I think those with Asperger syndrome may find it easier to access services and funding when their condition is recognised alongside the more profoundly challenging disorders.

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Kate E Reynolds - blogging

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