In the decade since Asperger Syndrome (AS) was included in the DSM-IV, we have learned a great deal. We have gained more experience with this presentation of symptoms, and the resulting needs of children, adults, and their families. At the same time, we have discovered more about the diverse, rich, and varied ways in which the world is perceived. We have been reminded of how “difference” can put our fellow citizens at risk of marginalization, discrimination, and isolation, resulting in problems simply surviving from day to day. We again have seen the high price that society places on conformity and its discomfort with diversity.
Despite recent interest in this cluster of symptoms, AS characteristics are nothing new. Undoubtedly, there have been people who have been affected by similar traits throughout history. We have only recently come to identify them. It is often said that many of the features associated with AS easily meld into our perception of what are “normal” human traits.
In many ways, we are more comfortable in dealing with obvious differences. In such cases, we have a better idea of what we are dealing with, and are able to make accommodations or adaptations to the environment as necessary. For example, people with physical challenges may struggle less because accommodations related to entering and moving through public buildings are now legislated.
Unfortunately, the deceiving invisibility of AS has put those affected by this syndrome at a disadvantage. Not surprisingly, I hear from both those with AS and their family members that they would be better off if they were more severely affected by autism. Ironically, the subtlety of AS is also sometimes its curse. Societal response, or lack of it, to individuals with AS can be more disabling than the “disability” itself.
In an already overwhelmed social service and medical system, there is concern among care providers about whether they can accommodate the needs of the ever-growing group of individuals diagnosed with AS. Misdiagnosis of AS or inability to recognize traits of AS is common in the mental health, medical, and social services fields despite the valiant attempts of those affected by AS to advocate on their own behalf. In looking for services, people with AS commonly