Do Autism and Asperger Syndrome Belong in the Same Category? DSM-5 Says Yes

FilesRead our full guide to the 2013 DSM-5 by clicking here.

Autism and Asperger syndrome may stem from the same type of developmental disorders, yet the two have long been separate when it comes to their official classification in the psychiatric “bible” known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The revised version of the manual, DSM-5, lumps the two conditions into a single classification known as autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. The move has stirred up much controversy, and the changes may affect many. reports autism diagnoses are on the rise, although it is unclear if the increase can be credited to more advanced reporting and detection techniques or an actual increase in the number of cases. One can bet the number of anxious children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder will surely increase after DSM-5 hits doctors’ desks, due to the new inclusions.

The ASD classification will now include Asperger syndrome, which is also classified as a PDD, or pervasive developmental disorder. Other PDDs will jump into the autism spectrum disorder category, including those carrying the “not specified label,” as will childhood disintegrative disorder. The category may become larger still due to the ongoing increase in autism diagnoses in general. 

“The number of children diagnosed with autism appears to be rising,” says. “It’s not clear whether this is due to better detection and reporting of autism or a real increase in the number of cases or both.”

The ASD category promises to be huge, perhaps running the risk of becoming one of those “catch-all” categories that end up with numerous conditions lumped into the mix. 

What the Heck is a “Spectrum” Disorder, Anyway?

Autism falls under the term spectrum disorder due to the wide variety and combination of symptoms that arise. The expansion of the classification adds an even greater number of possible combinations. The severity of symptoms can also vary widely in the spectrum, ranging from severe to mild.

Symptoms of ‘Classic’ Autism

Autism symptoms are typically apparent by the time an anxious child hits 2 or 3 years old, although formal autism screenings are available for children as young as 16 months of age. Signs of autism can include:

  • Problems interacting, relating to, or playing with others
  • Odd, repetitive behavior when playing with toys or otherwise amusing self
  • Ignoring things in the environment, not exhibiting signs of curiosity or desire to explore
  • Loss of developmental progress, or delayed progress achieving developmental milestones
  • Not calling attention to things by pointing
  • Not understanding language or not using it as age would suggest appropriate
  • Not making eye contact with others

Symptoms of Asperger Syndrome

Named for pediatrician Hans Asperger, who first made note of the set of behaviors in 1944, Asperger syndrome is often thought of as a very mild form of autism. Anxious children diagnosed with asperger’s typically have a normal development of language skills and intelligence, although they are lacking in communication skills, social skills and coordination.

Despite the fears of lumping asperger syndrome into the broad ASD category, one DSM-5 task force member did note that anxious kids diagnosed with asperger under the ASD classification may actually be eligible for services they had previously not been eligible to receive.