Redefining Asperger's: The End of an Epidemic?

April 1, 2013

For many parents, it has been quite a long road to get a proper diagnosis for their child. Some worry that next month that road may just get longer. On May 5th, 2013 when the new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) Version 5 is put into place, autism spectrum disorders as we currently know them may change drastically. In fact, Asperger's Syndrome will cease to exist as a diagnosis entirely. This decision has raised many questions and caused many concerns among parents who have children who are diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.

Children with the group of symptoms currently categorized as Asperger's Syndrome will now fall under the broader category of Autism Spectrum Disorder. As children are reevaluated, their label will change. However, being diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder may prove to be more complicated than in the past. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a term that is already widely used within the autism community, educational settings, and the medical community. Supporters of this change think that it is a matter of education. They reason that the DSM IV broadened the definition of autism causing an upsurge of diagnoses, and that this change will temper the upswing making for a more accurate picture of the disorder. They hope that the changes will clarify the meaning of Asperger's Syndrome within the larger context of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Experts who took part in this decision feel that it is more accurate to say that a student is on the Autism Spectrum and high functioning than to offer a separate diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome. It is also possible that in states where children with the label of Asperger's Syndrome did not qualify for state services, they now will qualify under the new label of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

However, many are much more skeptical about the upcoming change. Parents wonder how the change will affect services their children receive, and many also speculate about how this change will affect the funding for research of this increasingly prevalent condition. The New York Times reported that this revamping of the definition could exclude many children who currently qualify because the new definition is more stringent. Currently a person can qualify by exhibiting any six or more of twelve behaviors. Under the new regulations, the same person would have to exhibit three deficits specifically within the category of social interaction and at least two repetitive behaviors. Many, such as Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, Director of the Child Study Center at Yale, argue that implementing these stricter guidelines will put an end to the "autism epidemic." And maybe that is the intention of the changes, but others maintain that you can't just make autism go away by redefining it.

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Parrish Learning Zone, LLC
@parrishlearning | | Like us on Facebook
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Redefining Asperger's: The End of an Epidemic?

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