I know a bunch of experts got together and decided after years of study to do away with the diagnosis of “Asperger’s Syndrome” on the autism spectrum. And I know that because they are experts I’m supposed to accept their verdict. I also know that I’m a number cruncher by profession not a medical clinician and that what I know about autism is limited to my knowledge of one child. But it’s what I know about this one child that makes me question the decision.
The child I know has a fount of information stored in her head and can spout off the most astonishing facts at a moment’s notice. This child can devour a 500-page book in a single day and give a succinct synopsis and detailed character analysis after the reading. This child has a keen fashion sense and won a regional art award for an amazing picture when she was in high school. This child can drive a car.
This child thrives on routine but can take quick action when needed. This child had the wherewithal when the house was broken into and her grandparents held at gunpoint to bluster her way to the basement, escape through the basement door, and run for help, literally saving her grandparents’ lives.
“This child” is 40 years old. When she was in grade school, before the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” was coined, she was labeled “mildly retarded.” Her education and future were defined by this limitation because like it or not, humans categorize and compartmentalize before taking a course of action. However else she may be different, she is not mildly retarded (unless you subscribe to the theory that we are all “mildly retarded” in our own personal areas of weakness.)
So I’m worried – worried what this decision to do away with the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” may mean for another high functioning child on the autism spectrum, another little Wendy who’s just a bit “different” and whose parents are desperately trying to figure out why.