Have you heard? Everyone’s favorite vague but strangely appealing diagnosis, Asperger’s Syndrome, is going away in May: The upcoming new edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual, the DSM-5, is ditching the “Asperger’s” label for the term “ASD-Level 1 (mild),” which sounds just as technical, specific, and yucky as it’s intended to. Asperger’s is now just plain old autism, a very real and unromantic condition that nobody wants to claim at a dinner party.
I hope you’re happy with yourselves. This is why you never get any nice clinical terms to play with, because you overuse them until they’re meaningless. Not since the Winona-Ryder-in-the-bug-house flick Girl, Interrupted popularized “borderline personality” has everyone secretly yearned for such a quick, simple, not-too-scary explanation for social awkwardness. Is your co-worker unfriendly? Calling him “just a little Asperger’s” made his rudeness easier to take. Is your significant other emotionally unavailable? A wistful pronouncement of “Asperger’s” made that coldness totally not her fault, and somehow potentially treatable, too.
Taking Asperger’s off the pop psychology table means taking responsibility for your own inarticulate, slow-witted personality. (Newtown shooter Adam Lanza, who may or may not have had real Asperger’s, kind of removed the benign sheen from the word anyway). This will be a traumatic process –– at least until Dr. Oz can popularize an even better misdiagnosis.