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Autism prevalence study raises questions about Asperger's syndrome

May 09, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Autism rates were found to be much higher in a new study that included children with Asperger's syndrome. But researchers disagree about whether Asperger's and autism are the same disorder.
Autism rates were found to be much higher in a new study that included children… (Richard Hartog / Los Angeles…)

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.

The difference between autism and Asperger's is that people with the latter disorder do not have significant delays in language and cognitive development. But many researchers now suggest that the Asperger's is autism and that it's impossible to draw a distinct line between the disorders. Increasingly, people refer to "autism spectrum disorders" to describe the range of functioning seen in people with autism.

While some people have criticized the proposal, others say that folding Asperger's into the autism grouping will allow for better identification of children who need developmental services and will force insurers and state governments to pay for it.

Related: Autism rates may be higher than thought

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