Few conditions seem to generate as much controversy as autism. The latest potential hornet's nest centers on the upcoming fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is due out in 2013. The DSM, which is put out by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), is the mental health profession's bible, setting the standard for research, treatment and insurance decisions.
It's likely that the new DSM will have a very different definition of autism. Instead of three autism subtypes - Asperger syndrome, autism spectrum disorder and pervasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) - there will be just one, autism spectrum disorder. Some experts believe the changes are needed because current definitions of autism are too hazy, leading perhaps to an over diagnosis of the condition.
The new definition is meant to streamline and clarify what it means to have autism. But many experts are quoted in news articles about being worried that it could radically limit the number of people who are diagnosed with autism, and thus deny them access to needed health, educational and social services. One of those concerned experts, Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, director of the Child Study Center at Yale School of Medicine, expressed his concerns about the proposed changes at a recent Icelandic Medical Association meeting.
The panel downplays the numbers of people who will be affected, but no one really knows.