Asperger Syndrome is a neurobiological disorder characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties, and restrictive/repetitive stereotyped behavior patterns. Since 1994, Asperger’s has been defined as a separate disorder from autism in the psychiatric manual. As a result of this change, the Asperger’s diagnosis will be placed within a new “autism spectrum disorder” category, which will also include autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified. These are collectively known as spectrum disorders because the symptoms of each can appear in different combinations and in varying degrees of severity. For example, two children with the same diagnosis may share certain patterns of behavior but often exhibit a wide range of skills and abilities.
The question for many parents of children previously diagnosed with Asperger’s is whether this change in diagnostic terminology will impact their child’s eligibility to receive special education services. According to experts, the revision will not affect eligibility. Catherine Lord, an autism expert at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York who was on the psychiatric group's autism task force, said that any child who met the criteria for Asperger's in the old manual would be included in the new diagnosis. It will bear watching to see how evaluators and school address this diagnostic revision once it takes effect in May 2013, but it does not appear that the labeling of the disorder will affect special education eligibility.Written by Jeffrey Sankey