Autism Spectrum Disorder

A new diagnosis included in the DSM-5. Asperger Syndrome and other forms of autism have been combined under the umbrella of this broad diagnosis. Because Asperger Syndrome shares some of the core traits of autism (although they may be expressed to different extents), and because the two diagnoses often occur within the same families (suggesting a genetic link), Asperger Syndrome is generally considered to lie on the “Autism Spectrum.” It has yet to be determined whether High Functioning Autism (HFA) differs from AS and, if so, how. Both AS and autism involve neuro-biological differences in how information is processed and integrated. A less pathologizing term is ‘Autism Spectrum Difference’. In Steve Silberman’s sweeping history of autism, Neurotribes, he describes the significance of the now familiar term, spectrum:

While [Lorna Wing] was trying to think of a better term, she heard a phrase of Winston Churchill’s echo in her mind:  “Nature never draws a line without smudging it.” This seems particularly true of autism. One of the most subversive aspects of Lorna’s concept was her suggestion that the continuum shades imperceptibly into garden-variety eccentricity. (“All the features that characterize Asperger’s syndrome,” she observed, “can be found in varying degrees in the normal population.”) . . . Ultimately, she adopted the term autism spectrum. She liked the sound of it, which evoked pleasing images of rainbows and other phenomena that attest to the infinitely various creativity of nature. Clinicians readily adopted the phrase, because it helped explain what they’d been seeing in the real world for decades (p. 353).