New Diagnoses for Autism?

By Chanley Rose

Despite professing a wait-and-see stance, local parents and national organizations alike worry new changes in autism diagnostics may deny some children the help they need.

The American Psychiatric Association recently conducted a major revision of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (also known as the D.S.M.) that will be published in 2013.

New diagnostic guidelines may make it harder for people to be diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders.

The national organization, Autism Speaks, released a statement, saying it is “concerned that planned revisions to the definition of autism spectrum disorder may restrict diagnoses in ways that may deny vital medical treatments and social services to some people on the autism spectrum.”

But President Sara Spragens of the Autism Society of the Bluegrass isn’t jumping to conclusions until she sees the impact.

“If they [patients] are still on the autism spectrum, I don’t see how it is damaging,” she said. “But if it knocks people off a diagnosis, it could be a bad thing.”

Some argue that the recent increase in diagnoses suggests tougher guidelines are needed.

The CDC estimates that 1 child in every 110 is now diagnosed with some form of autism.

Laurie Evans of Lexington Family Magazine has dealt with the diagnostic process firsthand. One of her daughters was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome nearly a decade ago.

“I’m torn – I think the disorder is over-diagnosed, but I want kids to be able to get help,” Evans said.

Agreeing with Evans is Marty Boman, director of the Kelly Autism Program at Western Kentucky University.

“I have mixed feelings,” she said. “As a society we have a responsibility to our children, but I know there needs to be changes so that diagnoses are more accurate. But we can’t ignore kids and their needs.”

Children with autism spectrum disorders qualify for health, educational and social aid.

They also qualify for Individual Education Plans within schools that bridge the achievement gap between diagnosed and undiagnosed children. Without an official diagnosis, this aid cannot be given.

In college, the Kelly Autism Program at WKU makes sure students with autism get the help they need. This help includes individual dorm rooms, tutoring and mentors.

But without an official diagnosis, the program cannot give those in need any help.

Ultimately, there are so many variables among autism patients that completely clear guidelines may be impossible to create.

Warning signs such as lack of emotional control, lack of baby babble, presence of seizure disorders, chromosomal abnormalities and gastrointestinal issues may not be seen in all children with the disorder.

Evans suggests that “maybe some other diagnosis would fit better” for many people diagnosed with autism.

But until other disorders can be identified, the autism spectrum may have to be an umbrella to enable the impaired to get the help they need.