New Autism Definitions: What's in a Name?
Recently the American Psychiatric Association voted to redefine many of the definitions of various mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Among many of the controversial changes, Asperger's Syndrome has been removed as a diagnosis, and added to the over-reaching autism label. There has been a heated debate as to the over-reaching implications of this decision, including the possibility that many who qualified for services no longer qualify. The decision was not an easy one, being the result of 7 years of discussion, research, and debate. And, as part of the scientific process, the committee that developed these definitions will monitor their impact. This is the fifth release of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), and in each release definitions have changed. Now, this brings up some interesting discussions, none the least focus on the need for an actual label for a child who has autism. This might sound a little heretical, I have often wondered what good a separate label within the autism spectrum does for children or professionals. Isn't autism descriptive enough? I say this with the following understanding:
- Autism spectrum disorders represent specific symptoms of varying degrees of severity. Someone with Asperger's can have the same basic symptoms as someone with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, or someone with full blown severe autism. They have been previously thought of as separate disorders as they were discovered, but as similarities bound them together within the autism spectrum, they became identified as separate points within the spectrum.
- No two children on the spectrum are the same. Even if they both are diagnosed with Asperger's, often their therapists and parents need to personalize their treatment to their specific needs.