posted 2012-03-07 18:16:32

Autistic or Not?

Outrage as the APA changes diagnosis guidelines.

Elena Gianoulas, Contributing Writer

Mental illness is a struggle with which many people must live. To better understand various disorders, psychological organizations in the United States offer various programs and written resources. Among these is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which gives descriptions of different abnormal psychological conditions, published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The fifth edition is being released this year, and represents the first major revision

in 17 years. Among other changes, the APA has taken it upon itself to alter the definition of the mental disorder known as autism. This move has become highly controversial in the world of psychology; as a result, many people that are currently diagnosed with autism will no longer fit the criteria.

According to the American Academy’s pediatrics report, in 2011, one of every 91 children in the US was diagnosed with autism. In total, approximately 1 million people in the United States are autistic, making it the most common, and fastest growing, form of mental illness in the country.

In his article for the New York Times, Benedict Carey states, “The proposed change would consolidate all three diagnoses under one category, autism spectrum disorder, eliminating Asperger’s syndrome and PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified) from the manual.”

PDD-NOS. and Asperger’s syndrome are considered to be milder forms of autism, yet do not lack gravity in the least. By eliminating these two sub-diagnoses, the APA will leave thousands of individuals without a diagnosis, since the criteria are being tightened. In order for someone to be considered autistic under the new guidelines, they must demonstrate six or more of the twelve behaviors deemed symptoms by the APA. Among these are various social, behavioral, and communicative disabilities. This means that tens of thousands will potentially have to live without government services they heavily rely on, such as early intervention treatments, educational services, and supportive housing. What could be the reasoning behind such a drastic move?

As reported by the National Institutes on Health, $35 billion a year is put aside from government funds specifically for autism, a number that in 2011 was estimated to significantly increase within the next decade. This cannot be a coincidence.

By decreasing the number of diagnoses of autism, the government may be trying to prevent cost increases, but at what cost socially? The reduction of diagnoses in many cases may seem reassuring or relieving to families with members who have problems of this sort. But this may prove to be false hope. Their denial will be short-lived when these individuals’ conditions do not improve or potentially get worse.

Neglecting to diagnose children with autism because their cases are not extremely severe does not mean that they do not have problems that deserve medical attention. Children who are not diagnosed and who do not receive treatment, which may include special diet plans, nutritional supplements, psychiatric medication or behavioral and educational therapies, often find it virtually impossible to integrate into society not only as children, but throughout the their lives. This causes alienation, as these individuals often lack the ability to behave appropriately in a social environment or even speak.

Although in the short term the United States may benefit economically, more serious problems are likely to occur in the future. Since autism is currently growing at an astonishing pace, it will most probably continue to do so, including those with Asperger’s syndrome and PDD-NOS. This is regardless of whether or not they are considered serious medical conditions in the future.

Leaving people who are socially impaired helpless can ultimately harm society. People who could have had the ability to contribute to society will have been denied the opportunity to do so if they are not treated. Treatment does not necessarily imply that the individuals will ever reach this ability, but why deny them the possibility? The fate of the future does not fully depend on us, yet we have a social responsibility to do whatever we can. Negligence is not the answer.