The year after I retired from teaching in 2012, the the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM5) did away with the category of Asperger’s Syndrome.
I taught in a school in a small district. For reasons mainly having to do with resources, the school district sent most of the town’s students who had certain specific identified special needs, including autism spectrum disorder, to our school.
I am proud of what we did in response, which included the practice of full inclusion of students with special needs in classrooms with typical students as often as possible. It was almost always possible.
In the years since I retired, I have heard that the district’s practice of clustering special needs students at one school ended. I don’t know if inclusion is the practice in all the schools that students in my old district attend.
I hope so.
When I taught, Asperger’s Syndrome was still designated as a distinct condition. Now it has been folded into autism spectrum disorder since the 2013 DSM5.
I was thinking about this because April has been designated as Autism Awareness Month.
The Autism Awareness Month symbol is a puzzle ribbon.
As a teacher and a person who isn’t autistic I have never been comfortable with the puzzle symbol for autism. I believe that all of my students are a kind puzzle to adults.
I observed that in my inclusive art room it often seemed to me that the differences among students on the autism spectrum were often as varied as between any one of them and a random typical student or among typical students. Classrooms are made up of children, all of whom are on a spectrum of interest, ability and personality. The puzzle for a teacher is figuring out what those interests, abilities and personalities are.
I know that labels in the DSM5 have implications for resources, funding and implementation of special education laws.
There is always a battle by parents and teachers for adequate resources.
However, having read Edith Sheffer’s column in the New York Times yesterday, I’m glad they did away with the name if not the category of Asperger’s Syndrome.
According to Sheffer, Dr. Hans Asperger was a Nazi.
The labeling of children as having the characteristics named for Asperger often led to their death in Nazi psychiatric hospitals such as Am Spiegelgrund, in Vienna.
One of his patients, 5-year-old Elisabeth Schreiber, could speak only one word, “mama.” A nurse reported that she was “very affectionate” and, “if treated strictly, cries and hugs the nurse.” Elisabeth was killed, and her brain kept in a collection of over 400 children’s brains for research in Spiegelgrund’s cellar.
One of the unintended results of the decision to do away with the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome in the DSM5 is that we know longer honor Dr. Asperger by naming a condition after him.