A panel of psychiatric experts has recommended a change in the way autism is defined and diagnosed – a shift some health advocates say could exclude many who will find it harder to get care.
The expert panel, appointed by the American Psychiatric Association, said the new definition is designed to refine the definition for the disorder, which has been increasingly diagnosed in recent years. The current criteria for autism and related disorders like Asperger syndrome has been criticized by many mental-health experts as vague.
But advocates for people with autism said the move could make it more difficult for people to get care, treatment and social services.
“Our fear is that we are going to take a big step backward,” Lori Shery, president of the Asperger Syndrome Education Network, told The New York Times. “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.”
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has proposed the new diagnostic criteria for the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) – the standard reference book used by mental-health professionals. In a statement on its website, the APA said the new definition reflects “the work of dozens of the nation’s top scientific and research minds and [is] supported by more than a decade of intensive study and analysis.”
Specifically, the panel proposes a new category – “autism spectrum disorder” – incorporating several previously separate diagnoses, including autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.
“The proposed criteria will lead to more accurate diagnosis and will help physicians and therapists design better treatment interventions for children who suffer from autism spectrum disorder,” said Dr. James Scully, medical director of the American Psychiatric Association.
The definition would be included in the DSM as part of the guidebook’s first major revision since the 1990s
The new analysis was presented at a meeting of the Icelandic Medical Association this month.