This is completely off-topic, but important enough that I beg your indulgence: Some of you might know (and if not, you're about to find out) that I have a son who was diagnosed at the age of six with Asperger's syndrome, classified as a "high-functioning" form of autism. He is now 22 years old, a senior in college and making his first serious student film.
He could not have gotten this far and done this well without the help of dedicated teachers, paraprofessionals, school psychologists, social skills therapists, occupational therapists, and no doubt an army of other people I'm blanking on at the moment. And all that was made possible by his classification, when in kindergarten, as a "special needs" child, specifically one with a disorder on the autism spectrum. Most of it was paid for by our local school system, which was a major plus, since we would not have been able to afford it otherwise.
And now, due to a proposed change in semantics, people like my son might not be able to access any of that assistance.
As we speak, the collected list of accepted mental health diagnoses, known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) V (the fifth time this has been issued) is being compiled. And one of the changes being considered is to eliminate the diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome and fold it into the overall category of autism. That's a semantic change, and in and of itself, does no harm.
The problem is that it also makes it necessary for those who exhibit Asperger's tendencies to exhibit a majority of the criteria for--get ready for what they're calling it--"classic" autism. Many won't--it's estimated as many as 75%--and therefore won't be classified as having autism.
And that means they won't get the support they need. One of the members of the Yale University Child Study team, and an author of the coming DSM V, was quoted in the New York Times last week as saying the change could, and I'm paraphrasing here, nip the autism epidemic "in the bud." This is tantamount to saying that if we say leukemia isn't cancer, we can cut those who have cancer by a large percentage.
It's not going to be a huge thing for my son; he's gotten the support he needed and has done well. He'll continue to do well.
But the DSM IV, the first one to have included Asperger's as a diagnosis, was published in 1994. My son was diagnosed in 1995. Is his generation going to the only one that gets the help it needs?
I sincerely hope not.
You might not have a child who is diagnosed with Asperger's or one of the other diagnoses about to be eliminated. But I'll bet a dollar you know someone who is diagnosed, or has someone in the family who is diagnosed.
Changing the name of the disorder doesn't eliminate the disorder. It eliminates only the funding that provides support for those who have it, and that would be an outrage, a tragedy. This is not something that's going to go away because we decide to call it something else.
You can get in touch with the authors of the DSM V at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. I've already done so. I'd urge you to add your voice.
Next week, it'll be one day before the release of OLD HAUNTS when I post. You can bet cash money I'll be on the topic of crime fiction then.
Pitchers and catchers report in 20 days.