By Michelle Diament
November 5, 2015
When Asperger’s syndrome was dropped from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the change prompted concerns about increased stigma, but a new study finds those fears may be unfounded.
In fact, researchers found that adults in the American general public appear to harbor no negative perceptions about a particular label on the autism spectrum over another.
For the study, 465 adults were presented with vignettes describing a 9-year-old with symptoms that would qualify for both the old diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome as well as the current definition of autism. Though the story remained nearly identical for each participant, there was one key distinction — some were told the child had a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, while others were told the boy or girl was on the autism spectrum. A third group read the same story with no label provided at all.
Through an online survey, participants were then asked various questions including how nervous, uncomfortable or compassionate they would feel around the boy or girl described and if they would be inclined to move away from or play with the child. Meanwhile, the adults in the study were also asked how likely they would be to seek help from a mental health professional if the child described was their own.
Overall, researchers found that the label used to describe the youngster — or lack thereof — had no bearing on the likelihood that those surveyed would harbor stereotypes, prejudice or discriminatory attitudes, according to findings published recently in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
But the presence of a diagnosis did impact opinions about treatment. In cases where the child in the story was identified as having autism or Asperger’s, individuals surveyed were more likely to indicate that they would seek out professional assistance and they expressed more confidence in the effectiveness of potential treatment options, the study found.
“A range of individuals, including professionals, researchers and those with lived experience, have expressed concern that the recent DSM-5 diagnostic label change from ‘Asperger’s disorder’ to ‘autistic spectrum disorder’ will increase stigma,” wrote researchers from The University of Western Australia and the Illinois Institute of Technology in their findings.
“This study finds no support for these concerns in a general U.S. adult sample, as there were no differences between stigma ratings for Asperger’s and ASD labels, nor did either label increase stigma over no label.”