The American Psychological Association has undertaken the task of revisions for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for a fifth edition. This is the manual used by doctors to identify and appropriately label mental health, beahvioral and neurological disorders. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) provides diagnostic criteria for individuals on the autism spectrum. The current manual, edition IV, outlines four separate disorder types which are included on the spectrum. Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Development Disorder and not-otherwise specified disorders. The criteria for diagnosis are slightly different for each disorder on the spectrum. Factors that are consistent with spectrum diagnosis include language delay, social impairment, limited interests and repetitive behaviors. Edition V of the DSM is set to be published in 2013. Major changes have been made to the diagnostic standards for Autism Spectrum Disorders.
The qualifying behaviors for each disorder on the spectrum are the same. It is reasonable to reassess the diagnostic criteria to make them more specific for each person. It is not as important to treat ASDs by name, but by severity. The new criteria will focus on the qualifying behaviors and provide appropriate medical and behavioral interventions. Severity discrimination will be determined by the amount of assistance needed, the affective delays in language and social interactions, and the frequency of repetitive behaviors. In other words, rather than just observing the presence or absence of these qualifying behaviors, they will be evaluated for severity and frequency as well. Target goals will be simpler to define by diagnostic standard and make medical awareness of progress and digression more available and integrated into the evaluation processes.
The changes in the DSM V are relevant to individuals with autism and related disorders as well as their caregivers. The most significant changes affect the labels of the disorders. Pervasive Development Disorder, non-specified disorders, Asperger’s, and Autism Disorder will no longer be classified by name. Instead, they will take on the common label of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Numeric levels will apply to qualifying symptoms and characteristics in order to discriminate severities. The leveling criteria will be more specific and precise. Professionals expect diagnostic reassignment to impact those with PDD and NOS disorders, which are applied to ASD’s as a last resort diagnosis.
The changes to the DSM will focus on the qualifying behaviors for autism diagnosis. The behaviors will also have more specifying criteria in order to prescribe more precise treatments for those diagnosed. It is expected that some patients will undergo a reevaluation process in order to find appropriate placement and level on the spectrum.
Some individuals are hopeful that changes to the DSM will bring about better public understanding of the spectrum disorders. Several separate labels for the disorders have led to some confusion regarding the needs and capabilities of people on the spectrum. The changes will imply more definitions and explanations while prompting fewer questions and misunderstandings.
Diagnostic criteria in the DSM are incredibly vital since it is the only source for identifying autism. There is no available medical test. Parents or caregivers who suspect that their child has autism should document the questionable behaviors and delays. They should note whether the child has developed age appropriate interests, communication and social achievements. If any or all of these are lacking, the child should be evaluated by a neurologist or psychologist for assessment. The best treatment for autism is early intervention and behavioral therapy. These interventions are critical when determining the potential success for the child on the spectrum. Language deficits, social impairments and cognitive awareness are all delays which can improve with proper intervention, no matter where the child is placed on the spectrum.