In Tuesday’s New York Times, Simon Baron-Cohen reviews the implications of merging Aspergers into Autism Spectrum Disorder in the American Psychiatric Association‘s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. He gives a solid overview of reasoning on both sides of the issue but recommends that we wait because we don’t yet know if there is a true difference at the biological level.
What stuck out for me was the clear distinction he makes between psychiatric diagnosis and medical diagnosis. Psychiatric definitions remain in flux and fixate on the symptoms only. Medical diagnosis goes deeper, and attempts to understand the biological mechanism behind the symptoms. He states:
“…psychiatric diagnoses are not set in stone. They are “manmade,” and different generations of doctors sit around the committee table and change how we think about “mental disorders.”
With this in mind some good Doctors are trying to merge Aspergers into ASD because the symptoms are the same. It seems tidier to them. I worry that losing the distinctions that do exist will not be useful in the classroom.
Without a deeper understanding, all of us who serve these communities will struggle to treat the symptoms without understanding the underlying causes. This isn’t about finding a “cure” – it is about providing effective tools that enrich the lives we touch. The needs of teachers (and publishers) run counter to the desire at the APA for concision. As we create resources to teach reading and other skills we need more finely defined distinctions, not fewer. That, after all, is what an INDIVIDUAL Education Plan is all about.
by Lee Wilson, President and CEO