At the end of November, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) approved eliminating Asperger syndrome from the fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). Instead, the disorder has been absorbed into the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

David Kupfer, MD, chair of the task force revising DSM-V and psychiatry professor at the University of Pittsburgh, says the change aims to ensure that affected children and adults receive a more accurate diagnosis for the most appropriate treatment.

Because the DSM is the authority by which providers and insurers make treatment and service decisions, uppermost in the minds of members of the autism community is how this change will affect services. That question forms the basis for a letter from Geraldine Dawson, PhD, chief science officer, Autism Speaks to the APA. She urges open-minded, ongoing review of six pertinent points before committing to this decision.

Fred R. Volkmar, MD, director of the Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine, resigned from the DSM-V task force earlier this year because he opposed the change. He says, “The new definition will end the skyrocketing autism rates … But at what cost? The major impact here is on the more cognitively able.”

On the other hand, others, including Sally Ozonoff, PhD, professor of psychiatry at University of California Davis, support the new diagnosis believing it will expand services and improve therapy. She wasn’t involved in redefining Asperger syndrome, but she wrote in an email to the New York Times, “… I can state that the intentions of that group, and of most professionals in the field, would not be to exclude anyone from services or to tighten criteria to reduce the number of diagnoses.”

This is a hot topic and will continue to be one until there are tangible results for comparison. As Dawson admonishes in her letter to the APA, “It is crucial that the impact of the proposed changes be closely monitored and assessed.” Only time will reveal whether the new definition is a benefit or a detriment.

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