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What happened to Asperger's syndrome?

Asperger's syndrome: What happened to this name?

Updated: March 18, 2024 · 2 Minute Read

Vivien Keil, Ph.D.

Reviewed by:

Vivien Keil, Ph.D.


  • Asperger’s syndrome was formally reclassified as autism spectrum disorder in 2013 to better support individuals and limit clinical confusion.
  • Many agreed with the reclassification due to its link to antisemitism and the eugenic origins of the Asperger name.
  • Many people who were diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome still commonly use this term.

Asperger's syndrome: What happened to this name? Why was it removed?

Medical professionals currently refer to the American Psychiatric Association (APA)’s fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) when identifying autism. In the latest version that was published in 2013, Asperger's syndrome, which was often described as a “milder” version of autism, was removed. Instead, autism spectrum disorder is used to describe everyone who has autism. People with mild or severe symptoms are all diagnosed with autism.1


There are a few reasons why Asperger’s syndrome was removed from clinical use and why many agree with the reclassification.2


It’s a spectrum. Most people agree that autism is a spectrum that looks different person-to-person. Though there have been many attempts to categorize autistic people into subgroups, there is too much nuance to properly do this.


Individuality first. Personalizing treatment and support for those on the spectrum would be more meaningful than putting them in different categories. In the past, some reported that it was more difficult to receive support with an Asperger’s diagnosis than with autism.


Clinical confusion. The criteria for Asperger’s syndrome was problematic and confusing. A study showed that it was more likely someone was diagnosed with Asperger’s based on which clinic they went to rather than based on the person’s actual traits and characteristics.3


Eugenic origins. Asperger’s syndrome is named after Hans Asperger, a Nazi physician who worked closely with Hitler’s regime. He experimented on children in Vienna during World War 2 and ordered those who he described as severely autistic to be killed. He decided those on his “favorable” side of the autistic range would be given care and could be taught to hide their autistic traits and contribute to society.4


Since this is a somewhat recent change, many people who were diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome still use this term. 

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Article References

  1. Neggers, Y. Increasing Prevalence, Changes in Diagnostic Criteria, and Nutritional Risk Factors for Autism Spectrum Disorders. International Scholarly Research Notices. 2014. Article ID 514026, 14 pages.
  2. Happé, F. Why fold Asperger syndrome into autism spectrum disorder in the DSM-5? Spectrum. 2011.
  3. Lord, C. and Jones, R. Annual research review: re-thinking the classification of autism spectrum disorders. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines. 2012. vol. 53,5: 490–509. doi:10.1111/j.1469–7610.2012.02547
  4. Sheffer, E. Asperger’s Syndrome, the Nazi Regime and the Dangerous Power of Labeling People. Time. 2018.