Asperger's Syndrome Is No Longer an Official Diagnosis

Asperger's syndrome, once regarded as one of five distinct types of autism, was retired in 2013 with the publication of the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It is no longer used by clinicians as an official diagnosis.

Even so, the term is still used in some circumstances and by some practitioners, although people who were once regarded as having Asperger's syndrome would today be diagnosed as having level one autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) per the revisions in the DSM-5.

Asperger's syndrome is sometimes referred to as Asperger syndrome or simply Asperger's.

History

Asperger's syndrome was named for an Austrian pediatrician, Hans Asperger, who in 1944 described four children who were highly intelligent but socially awkward and physically clumsy. However, he did not coin the term. It was a British psychiatrist, Lorna Wing, who in 1981 grouped together the symptoms under the diagnosis, naming it Asperger's syndrome in 1981. It was added to the DSM-IV in 1994.

Asperger's gained some notoriety in 2001 thanks to an article in Wired magazine titled "The Geek Syndrome,” where it was described as the "milder cousin" of autism. At the time, people with Asperger's often were regarded as being quirky, creative, anxious, and socially challenged.

The term was eliminated along with the other autism types in the DSM-5.Per the DSM-5, all people with autism receive a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Levels of ASD

The change to the DSM entry for Asperger's is somewhat controversial, as people who are not severely autistic and may have been previously diagnosed as having Asperger's, receive the same diagnosis as those who are may be non-verbal, intellectually challenged, and in need of significant daily support for basic life skills.

For clarity and to alleviate confusion, the DSM-5 describes three distinct levels of ASD based on the amount of support a person needs. The new definition of autism describes people as having a severity level between one, two, or three, based on how much support they need.

Virtually everyone with a prior Asperger's syndrome diagnosis qualifies for a level 1 diagnosis, defined as “in need of a relatively low level of support.” Individuals presenting for the first time with relatively mild symptoms of autism will receive a first-time diagnosis of level 1 autism spectrum disorder as well, though this may be reassessed over time.

Continued Use

Despite being excluded from the DSM-5, Asperger's syndrome sometimes is still used in both the United States and in other countries. A common reason for this is that a diagnosis of ASD may sound derogatory.

A 2017 study analyzing the effect of removing Asperger's syndrome from the DSM found the change "has the potential to threaten the identity of those affected," citing autism as a stigmatizing diagnostic label.Some advocacy groups and organizations continue to use the term as well, at least in part because some people continue to identify as having Asperger's, not autism.

Even so, medical consensus continues to move away from the Asperger's diagnosis. Following the DSM's lead, the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), to take effect on January 1, 2022, has moved Asperger's syndrome under the autism spectrum disorder umbrella. The ICD-11 will be used by all World Health Organization member states.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Autism Speaks. What Is Asperger Syndrome?

  2. Gamlin C. When asperger's disorder came outPsychiatr Danub. 2017;29(Suppl 3):214–218.

  3. Weitlauf AS, Gotham KO, Vehorn AC, Warren ZE. Brief report: DSM-5 "levels of support:" A comment on discrepant conceptualizations of severity in ASD. J Autism Dev Disord. 2014;44(2):471-6. doi:10.1007/s10803-013-1882-z

  4. DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria. US Department of Health and Human Services.

  5. Reed GM, First MB, Kogan CS, et al. Innovations and changes in the ICD-11 classification of mental, behavioural and neurodevelopmental disordersWorld Psychiatry. 2019;18(1):3–19. doi:10.1002/wps.20611