New Changes in Diagnosing Autism

School Nutrition’s March issue explores mental health and mental illness with the aim of starting a conversation about these conditions that often go undiscussed. In “An Invitation to Engage,” Penny McLaren examines autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In addition to learning more about what these disorders entail and their signs, it is important to be aware of recent changes in diagnosing autism.

These changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, may have an effect in the coming years on the numbers of children diagnosed with a form of autism. The DSM is used by medical and mental health professionals in evaluating individuals with developmental, mental and mood disorders.

In the previous edition of the DSM, distinctions were made for five disorders: autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder. In the fifth edition, updated in May 2013, autism is now considered a single disorder, with no special distinction made for other previous classifications.

The diagnosis for Asperger syndrome was eliminated and now is included as part of a scale of diagnosis of autism. Those diagnosed at level 1 are described as requiring very substantial support; at level 2, as requiring substantial support; and at level 3, requiring support.

More notable, a new distinction was made between ASD and social communication disorder (SCD), reclassifying the diagnosis of some children and adults. Some in the field say this change means the incidence of children with an autism spectrum disorder would drop to 1 in 100. In January, Autism Speaks commented on the DSM changes in a news release, estimating that the ASD/SCD changes would not affect 83% of children who received a diagnosis of autism.

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