Although the American Psychiatric Association has been working on its revision of the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) for several years, a new study by world-renowned expert on childhood mental disorders, Dr. Fred Volkmar, has brought the concerns expressed by the autism community back to the forefront of discussion.
At issue are proposed changes to the definition of autism. According to the New York Times, many experts expect that the criteria for a diagnosis of autism will be narrower, but it is an open question as to how sharply.
Dr. Volkmar, the director of the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, believes the definition is going to narrow the diagnosis so much that it will adversely impact many high-functioning autistic persons. This in turn, may very well affect the ability of many highly functioning autistic people to get the services needed in schools and other settings.
According to many news source, including Long Island’s own Newsday, the panel of experts charged with revising the guidelines strongly disagree with Dr. Volkmar’s analysis. Additionally, two other field trials, one at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., and one at Stanford University in California, also found that the new definition won’t greatly change the volume of autism diagnoses.
The Washington Post interviewed Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of Autism Speaks, a national advocacy organization. While you can read the full interview here, she recommends waiting until the full DSM changes are released, and even then, she advises that we will be unable to see how these changes will affect those seeking diagnosis until it has been in effect for a while.
I believe this is the best approach. As Dawson states, the DSM needs amending. There are far too many distinctions among different autism types, with very little difference in treatments. All will now fall under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorders.