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New Autism diagnosis may restrict many children from services

Jenny Decker RN's picture
American Psychiatric Foundation Autism Discussion

The new autism diagnosis set forth by the American Psychiatric Association that may restrict many children services has many parents nervous they will have to pay out several tens of thousands of dollars in order to get the services the children require.

A committee of the American Psychiatric Association has spent several of the last years working on changing the criteria for a diagnosis of autism. With the new changes, the umbrella of autistic disorders will be included as one diagnosis. These disorders are autism, high functioning autism, Asperger’s disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Rett’s Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.

What has the parents of these children concerned, or sometimes panicked, is that if their child no longer falls under the diagnostic criteria, they may no longer get the services required for their child. This can run into not only the thousands, but the tens of thousands of dollars each year. For a family with one autistic child, this can be devastating, but imagine if the family had two or more children with autism. However, the committee charged with amending the autism diagnosis criteria feel that there should be no need to fear because most of those already diagnosed with autism will still fall under the new criteria set in place.

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Instead of the three areas of concern related to autism, the new criteria has only two domains. However, this still includes the same issues. The first domain is a blend of social and communication difficulties. Each child being evaluated with get a score on that criteria, so for verbal abilities the score ranks according to being able to speak, speak with single words, being able to use phrases or the ability to speak in full sentences. The APA states that using these very specific criteria, it makes the diagnosis itself more complex, but it also helps the clinician to focus in on a richer, better description of the autism specific to that child. This better description will help parents to achieve more indvidualized services for their loved one with autism spectrum disorder.

The second domain of diagnostic criteria is the fixated interests and repetitive behaviors. This can be evaluated through observation, parental reports of the behavior, and getting a history of the interests and behaviors of the affected individual.

The APA states that the reorganization of this diagnostic tool provides more clarity and specificity. The new term for autism and all the other disorders under the umbrella is called autism spectrum disorder or ASD.

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is not well understood. Each and every child that has autism is affected in different ways and in levels of severities. It is present in infancy, but it can be very subtle making it difficult to detect. Recognizing autism spectrum disorder at an early stage is critical to providing the best chance at treatment. Signs and symptoms of autism include no smiling before age six months, no waving by six months, no or few words by 16 months, or no phrasing with words by 24 months, fixation on certain objects, such as opening and shutting a door over and over and over again.