That was the headline in today’s paper. So, if your child was diagnosed with autism in the past, he could be instantly “cured” in the near future—if he doesn’t fit the new definition. But why doesn’t that sound . . . right?
Here’s what has transpired to date. A panel of experts, appointed by the American Psychiatric Association, is recommending pretty dramatic changes in the present criteria for diagnosing autism.
For example, with the new guidelines, there would no longer be related disorder categories, such as Asperger’s or PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified).
Instead, there would be just one autism spectrum disorder, and qualifying for that diagnosis would be much more difficult than the current guidelines.
But here’s the upside. These experts claim that such changes could dramatically affect the rate of autism.(In some places, the rate of autism is now as high as 1 in 100 children.) In fact, Dr. Fred R. Volkman, director of the Child Study Center at Yale University of Medicine says, “The proposed changes would put an end to the autism epidemic. We would nip it in the bud.”
Okay, first pause.
Changing statistics do not improve a problem. For example, we could raise the driving alcohol limit, and thereby greatly reduce the number of people arrested for drunk driving. But a change in those statistics wouldn’t mean we’re now any safer on the road. In fact, changing the criteria for drunk driving (by making it so less people were deemed driving under the influence) would only put everyone more at risk.
Is money partially (or completely) driving this reclassification? With the current criteria, hundreds of thousands of people receive state-backed special services. So, you gotta wonder if tightening the criteria for autism and eliminating its related disorders isn’t just a creative way to help fix existing state budget problems.
That being said, diagnosing autism and its related disorders has always been subjective, and this latest attempt to change the criteria underscores that point. In other words, such diagnoses have never come about in the same way, for example, as a cancer diagnosis—where there’s tangible “proof.”
And here’s another truth: While parents of kids with Asperger’s and PDD-NOS may presently qualify for certain resources, those services are limited. Often, such assistance does not even render significant results.
So maybe this is one of those blessings in disguise.
Maybe—if such changes pass—more parents will be motivated to learn about brain organization and how they can facilitate positive changes in their child’s brain wiring. Maybe more parents will no longer be resigned to out-of-bounds behaviors that they’ve been told to “expect” if their child has autism or one of its related disorders.
And maybe, just maybe, the focus will return to this question: How can we best help kids who are struggling? If that is the driving question, then having or not having a diagnosis becomes irrelevant.