One in 110 children in the U.S. are currently estimated to have autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With the rate of diagnoses skyrocketing in recent years, some newly proposed changes to the definition of autism would likely slow the rate of diagnoses but would also make it difficult for families whose children would no longer fall under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorders.
A panel of experts appointed by the American Psychiatric Association has the task of reassessing the definition of autism for the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The new manual is expected to narrow the criteria for autism, possibly excluding people with a diagnosis who are “higher functioning.” It would also consolidate Asperger syndrome and “pervasive developmental disorder—not otherwise specified” (P.D.D.-N.O.S.) along with autism under the category of autism spectrum disorder, thus eliminating Asperger syndrome and P.D.D.-N.O.S. from the manual.
As it stands now, the criteria for diagnosing autism allows for a person exhibiting six or more of 12 behavioral signs to qualify. Under the revised definition, a person must also exhibit three deficits in social interaction and communication and at least two repetitive behaviors for a diagnosis of autism to be made.
While some say that these changes are an attempt to make it easier to diagnose autism, many advocates argue that if higher-functioning people lose their diagnosis status, they may not be able to receive the insurance coverage, special education, or other assistance that they need. “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,” Lori Shery, president of the Asperger Syndrome Education Network tells the New York Times.
This is the first major revision of the DSM in 17 years. For now, the effects of this narrowing of criteria on the rate of autism diagnoses remain to be seen. Revisions will be final by next year.
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