Why are people with Aspergers’ syndrome considered mentally ill?

I just don’t get why Aspergers is categorized as a mental illness. It’s in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, so it must be, but I still don’t get it. I “get” why schizophrenia is considered a mental illness, although I don’t agree with labelling it as such. It’s all so confusing, really.

Here’s a story from the Ottawa Citizen about a mother who is not able to hospitalize her son because the Asperger beds are full, but there are spaces at the hospital if you fall under another mental illness category. Note that Aspergers used to be something rare. Now, by bed count alone, it appears to have overtaken traditional “mental illnesses” like schizophrenia in a spectacularly short period of time.

The real reason for being admitted to mental health facility may simply be that your family can’t deal with your behavior any longer. In the absence of helping the whole family find a better way of coping, the one with the label gets time out in the institution and the ones without the label get time out at home.

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6 thoughts on “Why are people with Aspergers’ syndrome considered mentally ill?”

  1. They aren’t. “Asperger’s” is listed as a syndrome, respectively disorder. A difference that often escapes people — as it apparently escapes Michelle Dewar — who seem to conclude that whatever is in the DSM must be a “mental illness”.

    On another note, I don’t know how much of a time out institutionalization actually means for the one who’s institutionalized. Time out from having to deal 24/7 with your family, maybe. But when it comes down to it, I’m not sure which is more stressful, having to deal with your family, or having to deal with mh staff, and in addition, and especially in case you’re involuntarily committed to a locked ward, with being ultimately victimized, with a dramatically reduced chance to escape the victimization.

  2. The difference obviously escaped me too! However, in this article, there are beds in a mental health facility (a.k.a. “mental hospital”) for Aspergers, so isn’t this de facto the hospital considering it a mental illness? Have I missed this one, too?

  3. The hospital/mental health facility beds surprized me too. I think, I’ve never heard that hospitalization would do any good for people labeled with Asperger’s. But I’ve heard of these people being institutionalized. So, the question is whether there was a good reason why they wouldn’t offer the kid a bed on another ward, with the Asperger’s ward maybe being more of a place for “special needs” kids, than a hospital ward.

  4. I have a 22 year old son that has aspergers but it looks more like a mental illness now that he is an adult.I think he went crazy after too many years of feeling rejected by society and loneliness.He was unable to get a job or keep any friends.Now he hates everything and everyone,especially himself.Ive had him 5150d several times but they dont seem to know anything about Aspergers and they just shoot him up with Haldol,diagnose him with paranoid schizophrenia and send him home.I keep searching for answers but it seems there arent any as he is in denial of anything being wrong and refuses to take medication of any sort. I feel that he is going to end up homeless as his rage and outburst have caused me to move out of my own home.My walls are full of holes and several windows have been broken by him. I just dont know how to help him and am currently exploring the possability of spiritual possesion.does this sound familiar to anyone who knows about aspergers.Sometimes I dont even recognize him.He has turned himself into such a character,even talks in different accents.

  5. Classifying Autism in general is very difficult – it is technically a developmental disability, in terms of Aspergers Syndrome, it can’t really be described a learning disability, and although it fits all the criteria for a Persuasive Personality Disorder, there are extra symptoms which can’t be accounted for there either. By default I it falls under the Mental Illness umbrella. In terms of comparing Schizophrenia and ASD’s, neither can be treated effectively with therapy and the best you can hope for is some symptom control with pharmaceuticals – and that is debateable in the case of many people with ASD.

    There has been extensive research comparing Schizophrenia and Autism as both are a spectrum diagnosis. There are a surprising number of commonalities, but ultimately they appear unrelated.

    Here is some related reading:
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/201108/call-new-measures-asperger-s-and-schizotypy

  6. Thanks for commenting. I read the linked piece, which is very good. However, if you are new to my blog you may not realize that schizophrenia is highly amenable to therapy, unusual therapies, not the standard cognitive behavioral therapy that people use as their yardstick as to whether psychotherapy works for schizophrenia. CBT can be helpful once the person is well on the road to recovery. If you read Rupert Isaacson’s The Horse Boy, about healing of autism through shamanic practices and riding horses, it shows that like schizophrenia, it can be healed at the level of magical belief and the unconscious. Nobody is paying much attention these days – they are too busy pursuing a pharmaceutical cure. Thanks again for commenting!

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