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A new study suggests that many of those on the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum may no longer meet the criteria for a diagnosis if a new definition makes its way into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the book considered to be the standard reference for mental disorders.
The New York Times looked into both the study, which found that only 45 percent of those diagnosed with higher-functioning forms of autism might meet the new criteria, and the proposed changes to the definition.
The study is authored by Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, who resigned from the panel of experts currently working on the autism defintion. He and the panelists seem to strongly disagree on the purpose and effect of redefining autism.
Essentially, the American Psychiatric Association has appointed a panel to create a new edition of the DSM (which is long overdue; it's been 17 years since the current edition was created), and in re-defining autism, experts are trying to contend with the skyrocketing rate of diagnosis for autism and similar disorders like Asperger syndrome and "pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified," abbreviated to P.D.D.-N.O.S by those in the know. They're doing this by combining all three categories of diagnosis under "autism spectrum disorder," and by narrowing the criteria that must be met for a diagnosis.
The new definition, the panel says, will provide clarity to diagnosing a disorder that badly needs it. While the panelists believe the impact of a new definition will be appropriate, Volkmar's study indicates it might have a much more widespread effect on those with Asperger's or P.D.D.-N.O.S., with a majority losing their diagnosis according to his analysis. Additionally, if he's correct, about a quarter of those currently diagnosed with autism proper would also not meet the critera.
For those who might lose their diagnosis -- or who may never be disagnosed at all -- the stakes are high: without a diagnosis, individuals will lose or be excluded from access to services like special education in schools and disability support. But some experts on autism and its related disorders believe it is often over-diagnosed: as many as 1 in 100 children have such a diagnosis, the Times reports.
You can read the full NYT story here.