Major Non-TV Controversy: New Definition of Autism May Exclude Many, Making It Harder for Them to Get Help

Jan 20, 2012  •  Post A Comment

On the home page of the website of Autism Speaks, the organization founded by former NBCU chief Bob Wright and his wife Suzanne, it says "Autism affects one in 110 children; 1 in 70 boys."

But that may be changing soon.

"Proposed changes in the definition of autism would sharply reduce the skyrocketing rate at which the disorder is diagnosed and might make it harder for many people who would no longer meet the criteria to get health, educational and social services, a new analysis suggests," The New York Times reports.

The story continues, "The results of the new analysis are preliminary, but they offer the most drastic estimate of how tightening the criteria for autism could affect the rate of diagnosis. For years, many experts have privately contended that the vagueness of the current criteria for autism and related disorders like Asperger syndrome was contributing to the increase in the rate of diagnoses — which has ballooned to one child in 100, according to some estimates."

Adds the article, "At a time when school budgets for special education are stretched, the new diagnosis could herald more pitched battles. Tens of thousands of people receive state-backed services to help offset the disorders’ disabling effects, which include sometimes severe learning and social problems, and the diagnosis is in many ways central to their lives."

The Times article says, "The proposed changes would probably exclude people with a diagnosis who were higher functioning."

The story also quotes Lori Sherry, president of the Asperger Syndrome Education Network: “Our fear is that we are going to take a big step backward. If clinicians say, ‘These kids don’t fit the criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis,’ they are not going to get the supports and services they need, and they’re going to experience failure.”

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