There are currently around one million adults and children in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with autism or a related disorder, such as Asperger syndrome. But proposed changes to the definition of autism may dramatically reduce the number of diagnosed cases of the condition, making it more difficult for many to qualify for health, educational, and social services.
The American Psychiatric Association is currently in the process of revising the definition of autism as part of its overhaul of the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or D.S.M. This manual is the standard reference for the diagnosis of mental disorders and this is its first major revision in 17 years. Diagnosis definitions in the D.S.M. affect decisions in the health care industry, drive research initiatives, affect patients' treatment options, and are the basis for insurance decisions. According to experts, the new definition will dramatically restrict the criteria for autism.
So just how strict would the new criteria be? Presently, children and adults can be diagnosed with autism, or related conditions such as Asperger syndrome or “pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified,” also known as P.D.D.-N.O.S. People with Asperger’s or P.D.D.-N.O.S. experience many of the same social and educational struggles as those with autism but do not meet the full definition for the condition.
Under the proposed changes, the three conditions would be consolidated under one category, autism spectrum disorder. Asperger syndrome and P.D.D.-N.O.S. would no longer exist in the manual. In addition, under the current definition, a person can qualify for the autism diagnosis by exhibiting six or more of 12 behaviors. The new definition would require a person to to exhibit three deficits in social interaction and communication and at least two repetitive behaviors in order to qualify for the diagnosis. The new revisions will be final by December.
According to experts, this narrower autism definition would exclude many who have already been diagnosed with the condition or similar disorders. What is unclear is just how many would be excluded and how this will affect their chances of gaining access to educational and social services such as extra help at school for kids or special housing units for adults who need help and/or monitoring with day-to-day activities.
Personally, I know several children who would be affected by this new autism diagnosis. And I know their parents feel hand-tied and helpless about a situation that will more than likely affect their children's education. Will the new proposed definition for autism affect you or someone you know?