Syndrome by Any Other Name

By Bowers, Drew | The Exceptional Parent, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Syndrome by Any Other Name

Bowers, Drew, The Exceptional Parent

The word "syndrome" is one of those words that has slipped into our vocabulary with few realizing what exactly it means or all the implications it carries. I admit that I had never seriously thought about what all implications the use of the word carried until I was recently diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.

The word "syndrome" can be defined as "a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterize a particular abnormality or condition." Typically, a syndrome will be defined by major symptoms or signs, which must be present, and minor symptoms or signs, which may or may not be present. The word is used to facilitate classification and study of and also communication about certain conditions. The fact that a set of symptoms has been classified as a syndrome does not mean that everyone with that syndrome experiences the symptoms in the same way or that they contracted it in the same way or ways.

Therefore, classifying conditions as a syndrome has advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, classification, diagnosis, discussion, and, ultimately, treatment of the condition may become easier with classification as a syndrome. However, the concept of a syndrome may also lead to overgeneralization about a condition. Individuals may even come to be defined by their syndrome.

Perhaps the best case study in the pros and cons of classifying a condition as a syndrome is with Down syndrome. This syndrome is among the oldest, most researched, and most diagnosed. It was first described in 1862 by English physician, John Langdon Down, in a report that would be considered very discriminatory today. This report claimed that some of the features exhibited by those with Down syndrome were similar to those shared by Asian peoples. Down theorized that the syndrome represented a "regression" from what he felt were "more advanced" Caucasian characteristics to less advanced Asian ones. Nevertheless, Down's quest to explore all the symptoms of the disorder ultimately led to superior treatment of it.

Some may argue, however, that the classification of the condition as a syndrome paved the way for some of the darkest practices in psychiatry, such as the mass institutionalization of those with the syndrome, the forced sterilization of some, and even the outright killing of thousands in Nazi Germany. Increased awareness of the condition led some to believe that those affected by it were in some way inferior and that they should, at best, be kept out of society, and, at worst, killed. The classification of individuals as being affected with syndromes undoubtedly assisted in the persecution of them.

Public outcry eventually ended such atrocities in the years following World War II, but misunderstanding about and discrimination towards individuals affected with syndromes persists. Nevertheless, a prevailing mindset that such individuals should be helped rather than isolated from society has emerged. When the understanding of a syndrome becomes more advanced and treatment options improve, the syndrome moves away from being facilitator of stigma and towards being a facilitator of awareness.

The lifting of stigma is perhaps the most critical turning point in the treatment of a syndrome. Irving Goffman writes in his book, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, "discrimination ... reduce(s) (the) life choices (of the stigmatized)." Oftentimes societal discrimination can do more to hold an individual back than the symptoms of the syndrome with which he or she is challenged. Viewing individuals with syndromes as being ordinary people who have struggles, as we all do, is often difficult, but it is also very necessary.

There are not only difficulties that arise when a syndrome is recognized, but also those when a syndrome is not recognized or viewed with skepticism. Often, when a condition is labeled as a syndrome, some will claim that the syndrome is not distinct enough either from other syndromes/conditions or from normal behaviors/conditions. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Syndrome by Any Other Name


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.