One of the things we’ll have to say goodbye to in 2013, if the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has its way, is Asperger’s Syndrome. In the forthcoming fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) – the standard reference work published by the Association – Asperger’s has been “de-classified”, that is, it’s no longer recognised as a discreet, stand-alone condition. This is a bit of a blow to me because I’ve been gradually working my way up to getting a professional diagnosis. Am I suffering from it or not? Now, it seems, I’ll never know.
For those unfamiliar with this disorder, it’s named after the Austrian paediatrician Hans Asperger who believed that certain high-functioning autistic children can be grouped together in a special category rather than simply labelled “autistic”. Among the characteristics exhibited by these children, according to Asperger, are poor social skills, lack of empathy and difficulty in picking up on more subtle forms of communication, such as body language and irony. Typically, a child suffering from Asperger’s will interpret everything that’s said to him in an over-literal, pendantic way. For instance, if someone tells him not to lose his head over something he will become agitated because, after all, your head is attached to your body and the concept of momentarily mislaying it doesn’t make sense.
Asperger believed that early diagnoses of this condition was critical because the children suffering from it can go on to have successful, fulfilling lives, provided they’re given the right help. He referred to these children as “little professors” on account of their ability to talk about particular subjects in great detail – bus timetables, for instance. One of his patients became a professor of astronomy, while another went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
I daresay it’s the link between Asperger’s Syndrome and genius levels of intelligence that led to my self-diagnosis. I fantasised about being a member of an elite, human sub-species – like one of the X-Men. But there are also other, less flattering reasons for thinking I might be afflicted. (To read more, click here.)