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GL.06 The rise and fall of Asperger syndrome
  1. D Skuse

    Current Research and Interests: Genetic influences on development and functioning of neural systems associated with social cognition in humans; focus on the development of individual differences in cooperative behaviour, using neuroeconomic models. Clinical research programme involves high functioning autistic and Asperger children and adults. Other interests include behavioural and cognitive consequences of chromosomal rearrangements especially those involving sex chromosomes.

  1. Behavioural and Brain Sciences Unit, Institute of Child Health


The syndrome described by Hans Asperger has had a remarkable and complex evolution. Asperger's first paper was published one year after Kanner's. They apparently never acknowledged one another's existence. Unlike Kanner, he revised his description many times over the ensuing decades. His diagnostic criteria were further amended by Gillberg, in 1989, and eventually appeared in yet another form in DSM-IV in 1994. Is the condition merely a milder form of autism, in those of high intelligence? There are proponents of that view, who strongly dispute the validity of the syndrome, but others characterise it as having unique features. Unfortunately, there are few data published that could guide us to any firm conclusions. Our difficulty comes about in part because the current DSM-IV diagnostic criteria are so restrictive that hardly any cases of Asperger syndrome so-defined can be found.

The debate on the validity of the diagnosis of what is now called Asperger syndrome in DSM/ICD (not, incidentally meeting either Asperger's or Gillberg's criteria) might have rumbled on for years, but for the pending 5th revision to the DSM. The controversial decision has provisionally been made to abolish the syndrome in DSM-5, and to describe all conditions with autistic symptomatology as Autism Spectrum Disorders. That recommendation has upset the “Aspie” community, who feel they are losing their identity. The implications of recent research evidence on high functioning autistic disorders for the case made to abolish the diagnosis of Asperger syndrome will be discussed.

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