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What’s in a Name?

Asperger’s Syndrome? Autism Spectrum Disorder? High Functioning ASD? Which is it?

There are two major diagnostic manuals published every few years to help psychiatrists, psychologists, pædiatricians and other health care and related professionals diagnose their clients more accurately. Both are used globally, despite being published in different parts of the world.

The better we understand the different conditions affecting people with either mental conditions or neurological conditions — or both — the more accurately we can diagnose their specific conditions.


1. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association) is the handbook used in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. It contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders.


2. International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision. (World Health Organisation, July 2018.)

The global standard for diagnostic health information.

This manual covers the entire field of medical diseases and disorders, as well as mental health and neurological conditions.

Compiled and published in the European Union — where almost half of all psychiatrists and psychologists in the world are located.

Why all the fuss over dropping the name “Asperger’s Syndrome”?

In DSM-IV, published in 1994, the neurological condition “Asperger’s Syndrome” was formally recognised for the first time. It was a breakthrough for Aspies* everywhere.

It had been articulated by Austrian pædiatrician, Dr Hans Asperger, fifty years before in 1944. He set out a precise set of criteria that differentiated it from existing criteria for Autism. It defined a narrow band of indications for individuals on the mild/genius/high-functioning end of the Autism Spectrum.

A welcome new classification, but

Politicians and bureaucrats are notoriously reactiveand sloooow to act when they finally do decide to react.

In 1994, the generally-used estimate for distribution of Autistic people in the overall population was around 1 in every 300. In other words, 1 Autistic person in every 300 people.

Fast-forward to 2018 and the current estimate is that 1 in every 68 people is Autistic.

Suddenly, the dynamic has changed… politically and economically.

There are more than four times as many of us as originally thought. And we often tend to be exceptionally intelligent. And while politics isn’t a field that attracts many of us, we have families and friends who are strongly committed to us and our well-being and we all VOTE. (If we can be reached and recruited, we could form a massive voting bloc!)

Add to this dawning awareness of our real presence the fact that many of the most wealthy and influential entrepreneurs and innovators in today’s world — including Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Ellison (Oracle), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google) — are suspected Aspies and you begin to catch a glimpse of what’s on the horizon for us.

But for now, we’re stuck with yesterday’s political and economic realities.

That means literally MILLIONS of Aspies who don’t fit the existing, out-of-date criteria for support and funding!

Fortunately, the people behind the Diagnostic Manuals (DSM and ICD) realised their (political) novice mistake: falling for the trap of introducing new qualifying conditions that lacked any existing legislative infrastructure and eligibility criteria for funding of support — and were savvy enough to realise that any such legislation would be slow and painful (at least a decade) to get any kind of positive action to implement… and for that legislation to then filter down through the bureaucratic maze that gets in the way of making it actually work (another decade at least).

So they chose the smartest option: they scrapped “Asperger’s Syndrome/Disorder” as a separate classification and placed it under the existing umbrella of “Autism Spectrum Disorder”.

Summary of key changes from DSM-IV to DSM-5

So don’t agonise over the name. As Shakespeare wrote, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (Romeo & Juliet).

Whether it’s called Asperger’s Syndrome, High-functioning Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorder with Level (X) Deficits, or similar, your Aspie is still an Aspie — but now enjoys a MUCH better chance of getting the support they need… and the necessary funding.

Except in Australia, where the recently-introduced NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) has fallen foul of outdated legislation, regulations and eligibility criteria for funding under the scheme.

It was also introduced in the dying days of the Rudd-Gillard Labor Federal Government, which was replaced by the conservative LNP government, which has no love for socialised systems, but lacked the numbers in Federal parliament to get rid of it altogether.

So they did the next best thing… they’ve starved it of funding, and obscured that reality by not updating the eligibility criteria to include Asperger’s Syndrome in NDIS funding!

Update: June 2019 — post Federal election

Now that the 2019 Federal election is over and Labor lost the “unloseable” election in spectacular fashion, the LNP coalition finally has the numbers it needs to make the changes it wants.

It’s going to be interesting to see what those changes will be. So far FOUR of the top people at the NDIA — the organisation that administers the NDIS — have resigned. Time will tell if this is because they were political appointees or not.

UPDATE: The Liberal/National Party coalition won a resounding victory at the 2019 Federal Election — and promptly clawed back all unused funds from the NDIA/NDIS in its first Budget.

This drew cries of mock shock, horror and betrayal from political activists, media pundits and the like — all cynically exploiting public ignorance of the simple fact that governments of ALL political persuasions adopt the sensible budgetary principle of “use it or lose it!”

In other words, each year’s annual budget allocations for all government-funded departments, bodies, agencies, etc are intended to be SPENT within that budget period — or the governments returns the unspent funds to general revenue.

Nevertheless, there’s an important piece of advice that applies here, from none other than former Labor Party Federal Treasurer, Paul Keating

Read about the “war” over Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

Read… The Enduring Power of Asperger’s, Even as a Non-Diagnosis!

Recommended reading…

Women my age weren’t called ‘autistic’ growing up. We were awkward or ‘rude.’ And we missed out on services.

This article is from the USA, but the author — an Aspie woman, 40+ — gives a personal account that rings true for Aspie women everywhere. Joey Murphy hits the nail on the proverbial head… especially about the term “Asperger’s Syndrome”.

Read Joey Murphy’s story now… click here

*Aspie? Neurotypical (NT)? Autism Spectrum?

These terms were all coined by the late Dr Lorna Wing (UK) in her groundbreaking books of the 1960s to the 1980s. The mother of a profoundly autistic daughter, Lorna and her husband — both psychiatrists — had a profound impact on the field of Autism.

It was Lorna who also first introduced the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” after the Austrian psychiatrist who first articulated the condition he observed in a group of boys in 1944.


©2018 John Counsel. All rights reserved.

Learn more: Visit Aspergers Help Australia Facebook Page.


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