H☼T Topics – Mental Health Monday: Aspergers and Autism

I have to be honest by saying, this topic is FAR greater than one post.

Spectrum disorders are so complex, so varied, and so difficult to fully explain. This post is by no means meant to be a full explanation of either Aspergers or Autism. I will touch on a few things and hope to educate those who are wondering about these diagnoses. If you are a parent of a child with one of these disorders, please feel free to comment as a means of enriching this post. Your experience is priceless.

The main concept I would like to cover in this the major changes to diagnosing these conditions… especially the fact that Aspergers is no longer considered a diagnosed condition. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual is the resource that is utilized to make mental health diagnoses. It is the book that contains all the criteria for every diagnosis available in regard to mental health. It is currently on its fifth edition; and this edition has completely changed diagnosing practices and even diagnoses. Slowly but surely all health and wellness practices will switch over to using this version, but for many practitioners, there is some hesitation. HOWEVER,  we all know that insurance plays such a BIG role in most people’s healthcare (one of MANY reasons I am not on insurance panels), so the complete shift will eventually occur, as insurance will require objective diagnoses.

So what impact does the DSM 5 have on those diagnosed with (or looking to seek a diagnosis of) Aspergers and/or Autism?

A LOT.

The way the DSM 5 approaches Aspergers and Autism is one of the biggest changes in this latest addition… some people love it… some people hate it.

So what’s the big deal?? Well… let’s take the Aspergers diagnosis into consideration here… someone diagnosed with Aspergers tends to have a hard time with change (one of the many manifestations with this diagnosis); and so the fact that there was a complete change in their diagnosis brings up a HUGE problem! And not just a simple change…

The DSM 5 completely GOT RID OF the Aspergers diagnosis.

Aspergers was thrown out and people exhibiting its characteristics are now simply considered to have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Perhaps this may not appear to be a “big deal,” but this was a major part of these people’s identity and it is now taken away from them. Also, there seemed to be a sense of relief people felt that their child’s condition wasn’t so severe as Autism… and now Autism is their diagnosis. Furthermore, the diagnosis of Aspergers gives professionals a clue as to what to expect and people’s needs. I think that even though the diagnosis is technically gone, professionals will continue to use the term Aspergers to help describe the type of ASD diagnosis.

Autism covers a HUGE spectrum and there are so many different levels of severity to this diagnosis. Some are non-verbal and others could give phenomenal speeches with eloquent language. Some will never be able to live on their own and some grow up to have families of their own. Some will never get a job and some will be major influences in the workplace. Basically, if someone tells you that someone has Autism, you have no idea what to expect. More information is needed to even conceptualize their experience.

I think that this great variance adds to the confusion, misrepresentation, and lack of awareness of Autism in society. People have probably met different people with Autism and their features are SO incredibly different that they don’t understand what Autism is or may think that it is not a legitimate diagnosis… or at least they certainly don’t know how to respond/interact/accommodate.

The way that Autism is now diagnosed, there are two different categories that can each be ranked as level 1 (least support needed), 2, or 3 (most support needed). The categories are:

Persistent social deficits (communication or interaction)
Restricted, repetitive patterns (behaviors or interests)

One instance that some people are actually happy about is the idea that sensory issues are now a means to receiving a diagnosis. Some parents of children who have wanted services due to their child having significant sensory processing disorders are thrilled to now have access to an ASD diagnosis. This opens up the types of care, resources, and opportunities available to their children.

All in all, this could mean that the number of people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders may go up significantly (adding those with Aspergers and sensory issues). It will be interesting to see the effects this has on school systems, the vaccination debate and other causal debates, medical care and treatment, as well as, counseling services for individuals and their families.

As a clinician with experience working with children diagnosed with moderate to mild ASDs, I have a big heart for these unique, bright, creative children. I also have developed a heart for their parents as they are striving to meet their child’s needs and are not always sure what is a part of their diagnosis and what is willful behavior. They are not sure how to help their child in crisis and want to meaningfully connect with them. Many parents find their ways of disciplining are back firing and are at a loss. They absolutely love their child, but have so many hard and exhausting moments. If you are one of these parents, I want to talk with you. Let’s chat for 20 minutes about your and your child’s unique needs… free of charge. Go to https://JillianRedefiningWellness.clientsecure.me to book your own online video appointment with me.

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4 thoughts on “H☼T Topics – Mental Health Monday: Aspergers and Autism

  1. So my daughter was diagnosed two years ago high functioning/on the spectrum. I was told that the aspergers was removed from dsm at that time. Did something else recently change in regard to this? I understand why some parents don’t want the autism label but since I have known nothing else it’s been more of learning to accept the diagnosis in itself. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi Megan! The changes to the DSM happened about 2 years ago. So being told this was accurate. There are still some practices that have not fully switched over to the newer version of the DSM. For the most part, I would imagine practices have switched over at this point; but at its first release, many were resistant to the change. Impressive that where you went was quick to make the switch; helpful for you in the long run! Proud of you for accepting and learning more!

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