New Definition of Autism Could Exclude Many Who Have It

DSM The American Psychiatric Association is getting ready to release a new set of guidelines that will be used to diagnose autism. This new criteria could exclude many people who have Asperger’s Syndrome, “high-functioning autism”, or P.D.D.-N.O.S. Naturally, parents are concerned about how this will affect the assistance that their children are currently receiving.

The American Psychiatric Association is getting ready to release the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This is the first time it has been revised in fifteen years. The DSM is the source that is used in order to diagnose mental disorders. It guides decisions about treatment, and is used by insurers when they make decisions about what to cover in a health insurance policy.

One of the changes is in regards to the new, official, definition of autism. Right now, there are tens of thousands of people who are receiving state funded services to help offset some of the more disabling effects of their autism spectrum disorder.

There are plenty of children who qualify for special education because they have been diagnosed with autism. How will the new definition affect them?

Right now, in order for an adult or child to be diagnosed with autism, they have to be exhibiting 6 or more traits from a list of 12 behaviors. The newly proposed definition would require a person to exhibit 3 deficits in social interaction and communication and at least 2 repetitive behaviors. This is a much more narrow “menu” than what had previously been used.

The new definition would consolidate autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and “pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified”, (which is also called P.D.D.-N.O.S.), into one category, called “autism”. This means that the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, and the diagnosis of P.D.D. – N.O.S. would be eliminated.

Based on this, there are good reasons for people who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome or P.D.D.- N.O.S., (or who have children who have those diagnoses), to be fearful. It could mean that once the new DSM is released, people with those two diagnoses will suddenly find out that they no longer qualify for the assistance that they had been receiving.

It could mean that children who currently qualify for special education will be pulled from that system, and placed into “mainstream” classes, (without any accommodations made for their disability). It could mean that an insurance company will no longer cover a treatment for autism that someone has been receiving.

Image by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious on Flickr

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