Some medical authorities are proposing to take Asperger's syndrome out of the next edition of psychiatry's diagnostic manual.
People with classical autism are often uncommunicative, while those with Asperger's are often very bright but have social impairments without cognitive delays.
'It's hard enough now to get them to understand that someone with a diagnosis of Asperger's actually does need help, regardless of the fact that they happen to be smart.' — Margot Nelles
Asperger's only become an official part of the medical lexicon in 1994.
Now psychologists are proposing to eliminate Asperger's from the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2012. Instead, the condition would be grouped in the category of autism spectrum disorders.
The idea of dropping Asperger's from the fifth edition, known as the DSM-V, is troubling for Margot Nelles, who founded the Aspergers Society of Ontario 10 years ago when her son was diagnosed with it.
"I'm gravely concerned as to the fallout if that were to happen," Nelles said Tuesday.
Nelles likened the proposal to lumping all cancers together, when each type is diagnosed, assessed and treated differently.
"For the general public and the general society, it's hard enough now to get them to understand that someone with a diagnosis of Asperger's actually does need help, regardless of the fact that they happen to be smart."
Psychologists advocating the change say there is a range in autism, and that the umbrella term is appropriate to cover the range from high-functioning to profoundly disabling.
If the manual's editors decide to make the change, it is likely to be controversial, Nelles said.
Health insurers, researchers and schools use the term Asperger's, as do people with the disorder themselves.
Nelles said Asperger's should not be treated exactly like autism. She started the Asperger's Society of Ontario to connect with others who were affected by the syndrome but who were difficult to locate within the wider autism community.