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Friday, July 26, 2013

Asperger's Syndrome, Then and Now

Perspectives RI - Autism Aspergers Syndrome Introducing characters with Asperger's syndrome in popular sitcoms seems to be trending these days. Television shows such as Parenthood and The Big Bang Theory may arguably be to account for bringing the disorder to light in living rooms across the country where disabilities might not otherwise be a commonly discussed topic. In fact - at least up until very recently - Asperger's syndrome has been considered to be a part of one of the most misunderstood neurological conditions in modern times: autism.

So what is Asperger's Syndrome?

Asperger's syndrome is a developmental disorder characterized by multiple symptoms including impairment in social interactions,; repetitive behaviors, a restricted range of interests and activities, and, sometimes, delayed motor development, leading to clumsiness or uncoordinated movement.

Unlike some other diagnoses now or previously on the autism spectrum, Asperger's syndrome has been understood to not entail any significant delay in cognitive development or general delay in language; indeed some children and adults with Asperger's even demonstrate a precocious vocabulary – often in a highly specialized field of interest.

Asperger's Syndrome was first identified in 1944 by Austiran peditrician Hans Asperger, for whom the disorder was named. The modern conception of the eponymous syndrome, however, came into existence in 1981 and, after going through a period of popularization, became standardized as a diagnosis in the early 1990s.

This latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) marks the first major revision in the definition of autism spectrum disorder in more than twenty years. Published by the American Psychiatric Association in March of 2013, the manual - relied upon by clinicians, researchers, and even insurance companies - officially eliminated Asperger's syndrome as a distinct diagnosis, in favor of using the "autism spectrum" as a catch-all for previously separate categories of autism.

It remains to be seen exactly how this change in the diagnosis of autism - and with it, the recognition of Asperger's as a distinguishable disorder - will affect the personal lives and professional fields of those affected by or concerned with it. It is certain, however, to continue the conversation about what autism, and Asperger's, is, and provide some commentary on how we, as a culture, address it; from the obscure screeds of clinical history to the television screen of the modern family.

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