Asperger’s syndromeLast updated
Asperger’s syndrome is named after Hans Asperger, an Austrian doctor who studied autistic children. It was an official diagnosis used between 1994 and 2013. A diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome was typically given to autistic people who had high verbal ability and difficulties forming or maintaining relationships.
Currently there is only one autism diagnosis, autism spectrum disorder, in the DSM-V — the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association and used by clinicians, health professionals, and others to diagnose and classify mental disorders consistently.
Some people still self-identify as “Aspies” or say they have Asperger’s syndrome, believing the term communicates their personal traits better than the more general “autism.” Others find the label outdated and harmful. Limiting use of the term to instances of self-identification, quotes, or historical context is a way to acknowledge how people represent themselves while still aligning with current understandings of neurodivergence.
Part of the reason the term Asperger’s is discouraged is because of its namesake. Prior to 2018, Asperger was characterized as trying his best to protect the autistic children in his care from Nazis. It was believed that he emphasized the intelligence of certain autistic children in order to protect them from eugenics programs. Later, research revealed that Asperger was a knowledgeable participant in the eugenics program. He referred some children to Nazi extermination centers, and letters suggest he knew and approved of what would happen to the children who were sent there.
Even though Asperger’s syndrome is no longer an official diagnosis, stereotypes about it have lingered in the public consciousness. In research and media, people with Asperger’s diagnosis are often depicted as geniuses with awkward social tendencies, trivializing the impact of the syndrome. Someone who shows autistic traits besides the stereotypical social awkwardness, such as meltdown episodes or sensory processing issues, may be accused of “using their autism as an excuse” for not behaving in a neurotypical manner.
Meanwhile, people who don’t fall under the Asperger’s category are given pejorative labels like “low-functioning” or “severely autistic.” They are often infantilized and have their talents, intelligence, and creativity dismissed. They may also be targeted by eugenics rhetoric. Some individuals are subjected to dangerous “behavioral management” practices, such as electric shock devices, or kept from obtaining financial independence through exploitative loopholes in labor laws. In general, it’s important to keep in mind that functionality labels do not capture everyone’s experiences. Just because a person struggles with certain activities does not mean they are incapable of doing well on other tasks or contributing to their communities.
Asperger’s syndrome is no longer an official diagnosis. That said, some people may self-identify as having Asperger’s. Limiting use of the term to instances of self-identification, quotes, or historical context is a way to acknowledge how people represent themselves while still aligning with current understandings of neurodivergence.