Autism and Asperger's: Grossly Overdiagnosed? - FamilyEducation

Autism and Asperger's: Grossly Overdiagnosed?

February 01,2012
Erin Dower

One of our most popular printables on FamilyEducation.com is a "Characteristics Checklist for Asperger's Syndrome: Social Interactions" (one of several Asperger's characteristics checklists on our site). Thousands of parents check it out each month, wondering (frantically) "Could my child have Asperger's?"

The answer to that question may change by next  year, when the definition of autism will probably narrow, leaving out some people with "higher-functioning" forms of autism, such as "mild" Asperger's or P.D.D.-N.O.S. So, hold your horses on making any assumptions based on those checklists.

On the surface, this might sound great. The stat (by some estimates) that 1 in 100 kids have some form of autism is way too high? Awesome! The trouble is, many families rely on the current definition of autism to get support (from schools, insurance companies, etc.) to treat their child's disorder -- whatever the "label" might be.

As this recent NYTimes op-ed by a psychiatrist points out, Asperger's or the idea of having "a touch of Asperger's" is tossed around fairly loosely these days. Some people have speculated that everyone from billionaire Warren Buffett to author George Orwell to scientist Albert Einstein has/had Asperger's to some degree.

Another Times op-ed contributor -- who was at one time the face of the disorder in an educational video called "Understanding Asperger's" -- revealed that he (like many others, he suspects) was actually just a "nerdy, withdrawn, bookish kid" (his words) who was misdiagnosed... by Asperger's experts including his own psychologist mother. Big oops.

A legit autism diagnosis brings a flood of emotion, but eventually brings a bit of relief (on some level) for parents who wondered for so long about their child's struggles. 

But misdiagnoses -- placing kids on the very fringe of the autism spectrum -- lands them in special programs with kids with very different needs, and puts a major hit on their self-esteem. (The op-ed writer who was misdiagnosed went on to become an author in NYC; he held a grudge against his mom for seven years.)

The autism spectrum is just that: a spectrum. But does Asperger's belong somewhere else, maybe off the spectrum? Do you feel that it's overdiagnosed? Please share your thoughts.