We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Asperger's Syndrome has been removed from the DSM and folded into Autism Spectrum. I'm not convinced that people with Asperger's-like symptoms have anything in common with what was traditionally termed Autism, and my suspicion is that Asperger's is just a normal human variation which, a while ago, might have been termed "slightly eccentric."
My view on aspergers is that it's more severe than you describe, but the autism spectrum has been stretched beyond recognition.
Twenty four years ago, our daughter was diagnosed with autism. While she didn't have the severe symptoms of spinning in a corner and not being able to speak, she did have the core symptoms of poor communication skills and poor social development. She was considered mildly autistic.
Mrs. Mudbug was one of the initial members of a mothers support group started by one of the pioneers in autism. Fast forward twenty two years when the original members of the mother's group started meeting again (socially now). The leader said agreed that what is considered autistic now would never be considered autistic in the past.
While I don't claim any knowledge in the psycho/political/scientific workings of the autistic community, I attribute the broadening of the spectrum to a few things. Autism gained a certain cachet. It seemed to be the "disability du jour". There were also some advantages to the autism designation in school selection, school programs, government support, etc.
I suspect a lot of this is merely political without much basis in science, but then anything that garners attention/subsidies/preferential treatment/sympathy that cannot be detected by a physical test is prone to abuse. This is not to say that parents of kids who have been diagnosed as autistic are consciously gaming the system - though there are certainly many of them - or that all the doctors and professionals who make and support those diagnoses are consciously gaming the system (or using it to their benefit)- though there are probably a lot of them, too.
I have 3 nephews who are autistic, 1 severely, 2 with Asperger's.
It most definitely belongs on the general spectrum of autism. My 2 nephews, one mild and one severe, share many common traits with other autistic kids. The nature of their relationships, their interactions, and even their interests are so similar to others who have various ranges of autism, you sometimes struggle to tell the difference.
Since autism is a spectrum disorder, it's hard to classify anything specifically to autism, which is what leads the door open to the possibility of Asperger's being moved out, as the general spectrum of autism has been expanded to include many other things these days (politically motivated, as mudbug notes, for some kind of benefits provision).
The difference between my two nephews with Asperger's and the other who does not but is autistic is that the first two can actually hold down some kind of meaningful job. The third can work, though has much more limited options and will always require some level of supervision due to his infrequent, but sometimes violent, emotional outbursts.
That said, my nephew with mild Asperger's will be able to work a much more reasonable job than the one with severe Asperger's, whose highest degree of occupational capability has been working as a guide at the zoo and aquarium. His lack of social skills, however, have led to some rather humorous (if mildly shocking to the people in his group) situations as he sought to share more information than is commonly felt necessary about the behaviors of various animals.
At any rate, the fears about the rapid 'growth' of autism, from my perspective, are misguided. As my wife once said to me, we all know the weird kid on the bus, we just didn't know he was autistic back then, and now we do.
I also think it's overdiagnosed. I've seen kids diagnosed with autism who, it later turns out, were just developing slowly and needed special attention.
On the other hand, I had a friend whose son was clearly autistic, but he just thought his son was 'quirky' until he read a Time Magazine article on autism, had the boy tested (at the age of 13), and was told he had Asperger's, but a very mild form. The only reason I was able to spot it was because of my experience with my nephews.
Unfortunately, this isn't the kind of thing you brought up with people, back then. Not sure you can even now. But when he told me, I explained my family's experience and told him I didn't find it surprising or worrisome.
By the way, since "Rain Man" was mentioned in the article, I'll add this. Most people do perceived that as the quintessential 'autistic'. It's anything but.
My sister-in-law told me a much closer movie, if you'd like to get an idea of Asperger's in particular, was "As Good As It Gets". The difference is Jack Nicholson's character is very clearly autistic but high-functioning - the Sheldon Cooper type of autistic - while many others, like my nephews, are not. Intelligent? Crazy smart, all of them. They are fonts of information.
When they were younger, I said "I believe they understand everything, and are capable of learning, but are simply incapable of spitting it back out in many useful formats."
My wife disagreed then. Today she'd agree. They are very, very smart. But most of what they know is unconnected and random. It's hard to find much use in what they have to offer.