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Autism Diagnoses May Decline in the Future


Researchers have found that the percentage of children diagnosed with autism will decline in the future. This was found after re-assessing population data and discovering a decline in autistic diagnosis prevalence based on a new criteria.

Last May, the definition of autism changed after the American Psychiatric Association published their special report called the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Autistic Disorder, volume 5 (DSM-5). This study has led to a new mathematical approach to looking at children with autism. 6,577 autistic children in 14 different states diagnosed with the previous criteria were looked at from 2006-2008 data. When those new guidelines were applied, only 81 percent of the children or 5,399 were diagnosed as being autistic.

Putting this into perspective, 11.5 children per 1000, who are aged eight to 14, were diagnosed with autism using the older criteria, this declined to 10 per 1000 using the new diagnosis. The number of autistic diagnoses may continue to decrease in the future.

One of the biggest changes brought on by DSM-5 was categorizing Asperger’s syndrome as part of the autism spectrum disorder. This spectrum means it will now be evaluated on a scale ranging from slightly Aspergian to in need of full care. The main reason for this change was because of the confusion in clinics. To be diagnosed with Asperger, for example, an individual must speak certain single words before the age of 2 and certain phrases by the age of 3, which is difficult to establish as the study says. Moreover, someone diagnosed with Asperger disorder could not simultaneously meet the criteria for autistic disorder. The two disorders were distinguished from each other by cognitive delay and a lack of language, which in itself was not the criteria used to diagnose autism. As the study says, “most, if not all, people with Asperger syndrome do meet diagnostic criteria for autism.” This is why they merged both syndromes into each other to date.

Other new findings and changes in the study included how autistic females have features that differ from autistic males. This was brought to the forefront because of the high male-to-female ratio in autistic diagnosis, something leading to the belief that something had been missed. Moreover, the term “mental retardation” had been eliminated and replaced with “intellectual disability,” a change the study says “is long overdue.”

The study does not have its controversial flaws. For example, new diagnosis of autism was created called “social communication disorder.” The director of Research on Autism and Developmental Disorders at Boston University, Helen Tager-Flusberg, said the evidence to support this new category is not valid or reliable and should not have been created.

DSM-5 comes 19 years following the last guidebook and 13 after it was revised in 2000. Between these years, incidences of autism soared, due to what the study described as broad categories. Even though autism diagnoses are now expected to decline in the future, no child with the disorder will be ignored. Dr. Andrew Adesman, who is a chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics, not part of the study, told News Daily that he thinks that this does not mean fewer children who do deserve to be diagnosed with autism won’t be. The goal was not to reduce the number of children with autism, but to take away “some of the subcategories that were previously difficult to delineate and distinguish.”

By Kollin Lore