Autism and Asperger's: Study Fires Up Debate About Whether the Two Are Different

A study published by researchers in South Korea is raising questions about whether psychiatrists should officially distinguish between autism and Asperger's syndrome. The researchers found that one in 38 children in South Korea has some form of autism spectrum disorder—an unusually high percentage. But the study is controversial because the researchers also counted so-called "high-functioning" children who have Asperger's:

Autism rates may be far higher than previously estimated, researchers reported Monday. But the new study, which found a rate of autism spectrum disorder of one in 38 children in South Korea, included highly functioning children who appear to have a milder disorder usually called Asperger's syndrome. Whether Asperger's syndrome is a distinct disorder or a variation of autism is a question under debate by psychiatrists.

The current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual — the text book of mental disorders — lists Asperger's syndrome as distinct from autism. But a proposal for a new DSM (DSM-5), which will be published in 2013, is to delete the Asperger's diagnosis and lump these cases in with the larger group of autism. That is what the authors of the South Korean study did, which resulted in a much higher rate of autism than the one in 110 normally quoted in the United States.

Read the full story at The Los Angeles Times.

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Daniel Fromson, a former associate editor at The Atlantic, is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He writes regularly for The Washington Post. His work has also appeared in Harper's Magazine, New York, and Slate.

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