Autism by any other name would still be as distressing. There are proposals afoot to redefine this condition. One effect of this could be to hold back, or even turn back the rising tide of diagnoses of autism. A further symptom of this redefinition would be to disqualify many from health, educational and social services support.
What Is Autism?
For those who don’t know, autism is a lifelong neurological condition where children show abnormal behavior in three areas, communication, social skills and in their imagination. It is a very individual condition affecting every child in slightly different ways. At the extreme end of the conditions spectrum some children never learn to speak, struggle to concentrate or become fixated on certain things. Autistic children tend not to have a theory of mind that allows us to understand and react appropriately to other people in normal social discourse.
A committee of experts under the auspices of the American Psychiatric Association are working on the revisions of the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’, more easily known as the DSM. It is the standard dictionary for mental illnesses that guides research and insurance outcomes. The question for the APA is whether the current definition is too wide and are we unnecessarily treating some children.
Is the Incidence of Autism Increasing?
The proportion of children in the population diagnosed with autism and related conditions such as Aspergers has been growing at an alarming rate (up to 1 in 100 in some places) and many experts feel this may be due to the vague nature of the criteria rather than the genuine existence of a problem. Certainly the results of the autism study, though it is early days yet, suggest that tightening the diagnostic criteria will dramatically reduce the rate of diagnosis.
Proposed Autism Definition Changes
“The proposed changes would put an end to the autism epidemic,” is the opinion of Fred Volkmar, director of the Child Study Center at Yale University School of Medicine and lead contributor to the new analysis. The task force are questioning the latest estimates of the autism figures.
Polite academic arguments over the new definition will have one immediate effect and that is an intensification of the scrutiny of the language and the implications of the Psychiatric Associationâ€™s revisions to the manual. These amendments are just 10 percent away from completion and should be finalized by December. This is according to David Kupfer, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and chairman of the group drawing up the revisions.
[box type=”important”]But is it all just academic? Well no, because parents of children with behavioral difficulties can only access medical, educational, financial and social help after they have had a diagnosis. Without it they are left on their own to deal with the symptoms of autism no matter how they are defined.[/box]