With anything that changes, especially an important reference manual, people are going to be confused about what those changes actually mean. Nowhere is this more evident than in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

As we noted yesterday, the final revision was approved for publication. The DSM-5 is how clinicians and researchers diagnose mental disorders in the United States. A common language is especially important when conducting research, to ensure treatments are actually working for the symptoms people have.

One of the changes getting a lot of attention is the “doing away” of Asperger’s Syndrome. But to be clear — Asperger’s isn’t being dropped from the DSM-5. It’s simply being merged and renamed, to better reflect a consensus of our scientific knowledge on the disorder as one form of the new “autism spectrum disorder” diagnosis.

So while the term, “Asperger’s” is going away, the actual diagnosis — you know, the thing that actually matters — is not.

But you wouldn’t know it reading some of the mainstream media’s reporting on this concern.

The board of trustees of the American Psychiatric Association, who released the approved changes on Saturday, said the reason they were renaming Asperger’s was “to help more accurately and consistently diagnose children with autism.” Which I agree with, because it’s important for clinicians and researchers to have a common, logical language. ((This is a good argument to do away with the terms “dysthmia” and “cyclothymia” as well, and just call them what they are — chronic depression and chronic bipolar disorder.))

I wish the media could differentiate between a label or word, and the actual diagnosis though. Because from the news coverage on this change, you’d believe the actual diagnosis was going away unless you read more carefully.

CBS News screams, Asperger’s syndrome dropped from American Psychiatric Association manual:

Asperger’s syndrome will be dropped from the latest edition of the psychiatrist’s “bible,” the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5.

It’s not until the third paragraph of this article do you realize the American Psychiatric Association, the publisher of the DSM-5, just decided to rename Asperger’s. (And why do so many media keep referring to a psychiatric diagnostic manual — a scientific instrument — as a “bible?” That is the strangest disconnect I keep reading time and time again. I’m not even sure any reporter who writes those words could tell you the reasoning behind calling it that.)

Fox News announced that “Asperger’s dropped from revised diagnosis manual,” but then quickly notes that it’s just the term that’s being dropped — not the actual diagnosis.

The UK’s Guardian does a little better, mentioning the renaming in its subtitle, “DSM-5, latest revision of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, merges Asperger’s with autism and widens dyslexia category.”

So yes, the label of “Asperger’s syndrome” is leaving the diagnostic nomenclature, as our understanding of this disorder has increased substantially in the nearly 20 years since the DSM-IV was published. But the diagnosis itself remains, with a new label — as a mild form of autism spectrum disorder.

People who are currently receiving treatment and care for this disorder will continue to do so, and insurance companies, Medicaid and others will continue to cover the costs of treating it.