New Definition of Autism Will Impact Diagnosis and Access to Treatment

There are at least a million children and adults that have a diagnosis of autism or a related disorder today. Leaving with such a disorder is in no way easy, particularly since the condition itself is still puzzling doctors. Adding to the existing difficulty in identifying the accurate diagnosis comes the new definition of autism, a proposal which is said to dramatically impact both diagnosis and access to treatment.

An expert panel with the American Psychiatric Association is currently reviewing the definition of the autism to be published in its fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental (DSM) disorders. Analysis and fellow scientists feel that the change should not take place because it will be a step back in the treatment of autism and related disorders.

The proposed change will compile under one category three different diagnoses. Basically, when browsing through the DSM for such a diagnosis, you need to search for the autism spectrum disorders category. This means that Asperger syndrome and “pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified” ( P.D.D. – N.O.S.) will be eliminated.

This means that the change will affect the criteria under which a person qualifies for the actual diagnosis. At the moment, a person can qualify for the diagnosis by exhibiting 6 or more of 12 behaviors. If the proposal is accepted, the criteria change: a person would have to show 3 deficits in social interaction and communication and at least 2 repetitive behaviors.

Last week, during a meeting of the Icelandic Medical  Association, a new analysis has been published, showing that the proposal would affect the patients. Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, director of the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine said that the changes would narrow the diagnosis so much that it could effectively end the autism surge. 

Lori Shery, president of the Asperger Syndrome Education Network, fears that adopting the changed definition will mean taking “a big step backward”. She said: “If clinicians say, ‘These kids don’t fit the criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis,’ they are not going to get the supports and services they need, and they’re going to experience failure”.

The revisions are almost done and will be completed by December.

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