With the announcement of the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the industry standard for diagnosing mental problems, there's been talk that Asperger Syndrome will no longer be included as a separate diagnosis. The disorder was first introduced in the current version of the DSM, which was released in 1994, but now a lot of psychiatrists think it's part of the larger spectrum of autism disorders, and should just be grouped in as a mild form of autism.
So a lot of people with Asperger Syndrome, or "aspies" as they sometimes refer to themselves, don't like this at all. Aspies don't have the same language problems as people with more severe autism, but tend to get into obsessive behaviors and have similar problems with social interaction. And they want to maintain their distinct identity.
One of the psychiatrists who supports the change in the new DSM, Dr. Mina Dulcan, says their reaction to the change is just a symptom of being an aspie: "One of the characteristics of people with Asperger's is that they're very resistant to change."
But wait: the reason people with Asperger's want there to be a separate disorder called "Asperger's" is that they have Asperger's? Dr. Dulcan is arguing that there's no rational reason why someone might want their disorder to have its own name and diagnosis; if they think that way, it's just because they're mentally disabled.
She goes on to say that the change in the manual "makes scientific sense. I'm sorry if it hurts people's feelings."
Hm. It doesn't sound like she's really sorry. Sounds like she's being pretty insensitive, actually. Could it be that Dr. Dulcan is displaying lack of empathy for other people's feelings and incomprehension of emotional cues? Is Dr. Mina Dulcan herself a secret, self-hating aspie?!
Whatever she is, she's not very good at making her case.
Here are two of my favorite stories about people with Asperger Syndrome, both involving the subway: there's Darius McCollum (in the photo above) who has been arrested dozens of times for MTA-related crimes, usually impersonating an MTA employee or, a few times, stealing trains or buses. There was a great piece in Harper's about him in 2002, and a play called Boy Steals Train based on his life came out in 2003.
Then there's Francisco Hernandez, Jr., an 13 year-old boy with Asperger's who rode the subway for 11 days straight last year. He got on the D train in Brooklyn to avoid getting yelled at by his mom for not doing his homework, and just kept riding. From the Times article:
He says he subsisted on the little he could afford at subway newsstands: potato chips, croissants, jelly rolls, neatly folding the wrappers and saving them in the backpack. He drank bottled water. He used the bathroom in the Stillwell Avenue station in Coney Island. Otherwise, he says, he slipped into a kind of stupor, sleeping much of the time, his head on his book bag. "At some point I just stopped feeling anything," he recalled.