Due to recent research findings the amount of children diagnosed with autism is rapidly declining in the United States. As one of the nation’s most prevalent disorders in adolescents the decrease in children diagnosed with autism is highly surprising, and arousing lots of discussion and speculation.
Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with and exhibit symptoms of autism, but that number is about to change due to new testing methods. Diagnosis for the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) had always been carried out with the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM-IV-TR. Within this manual, often referred to as the “bible of psychology,” doctors and psychologists find data and symptom analysis that help them diagnose children under the autistic spectrum. Previous diagnosis under the DSM-IV-TR listed three subcategories under the ASD, which help best classify children and the disorder that best fits with their symptoms. These subcategories include Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and Pervasive Development Disorder- not otherwise specified. The subcategories as listed in the DSM-IV-TR manual have stayed the same for the last 17 years, up until new changes.
In the recent changes to the DSM-IV-TR manual, the way that children are diagnosed with autism has completely changed and has drastically altered the diagnosis rate of autism. The new guidelines have eliminated the three subcategories listed under the Autism Spectrum Disorder and has instead replaced them with a simple broad spectrum with ranging severity to diagnose children. Now there is only one category, a new addition to the ASD diagnosis, called Social Communication Disorder or SCD. Children classified as having SCD have an impairment that makes verbal and nonverbal communication highly difficult or in some cases nearly impossible, but show no other symptoms of autism. The new changes to the way children are diagnosed with autism has lead to a declining rate of children diagnosed with autism.
The decreased rate is so drastic, a 31 percent decrease in diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, that many scientists and parents are questioning the new guidelines for diagnosis. While the new screening rules and diagnosis guidelines for autism have changed, scientists have become concerned that the new guidelines are too exclusive, leaving some children behind. The new guidelines in the DSM-IV-TR have been altered in a way that classifies autism as a less inclusive disorder, and in many cases have excluded children who may have fallen under old ASD specifications from being classified as autistic. While the declining autism rate in the US may seem like a positive change, it is actually hurting many children who need help. Without the diagnosis of autism by a licensed physician or psychologist, children are unable to receive special public interventions or services at their schools. This may cause them to struggle severely in school, when under previous diagnosis guidelines the children would have been classified under the ASD and received services. As the autism rate declines in the United States the amount of children unable to get results is on the rise.
By Allison Longstreet