Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
Proposed changes to the way autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are diagnosed have been on the minds of parents who worry that the new language, distinguishing, for example, between autism and Asperger syndrome, will lead to fewer services for a large number of kids. A new report, however, has found that the impact is likely to far far less than feared. From The New York Times:
Earlier research had estimated that 45 percent or more of children currently on the “autism spectrum” would not qualify under a new definition now being refined by psychiatric researchers — a finding that generated widespread anxiety among parents who rely on state-financed services for their children. The new report, posted online Tuesday by The American Journal of Psychiatry, concluded that the number who would be excluded is closer to 10 percent.
The finding may soothe the anxieties of some parents, but will not likely settle the debate over the effect of the new diagnosis.
All sides agree that the proposed criteria are narrower and will likely result in fewer diagnoses of autism, but until doctors begin using the new definition widely, the predictions of its effect are just that: predictions.
The debate has simmered over the past year as an expert panel appointed by the American Psychiatric Association has updated its proposals for the association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, scheduled to take effect in May 2013. The manual is the field’s standard reference, and several recent studies suggested that the amended autism definition was far narrower than intended.
“What I would say to families worried about the new criteria is that they’re more open-ended than the old ones,” said Catherine Lord, the senior researcher on the study. “So it’s very important to find a clinician who understands them, and who is not rushed when making a diagnosis.”
Image: Boy with teacher, via Shutterstock
Friday, July 27th, 2012
In a survey of the field of research on autism spectrum disorders (ASD), biologist Emily Willingham has concluded that rising rates of autism among children may be a question of new diagnostic techniques rather than an actual rise in the number of cases of ASD. For example, children who would have received a diagnosis of an intellectual disability in 1990 would today likely be diagnosed with ASD. From Boston.com:
That kind of change is called “diagnostic substitution,” Willingham explains, and it accounts for a lot of the rise in autism diagnoses. And there’s a lot of other, corroborating evidence, too. If autism were on the rise, you’d expect there to be more autistic children that autistic adults. Adults, though, don’t tend to be screened for autism — and when you do screen them, you find that the prevalence of autism is about the same among adults as it is among kids (1%). That suggests that autism isn’t on the rise. And that prevalence is the same all over the world, despite the fact that that the environmental factors which often take the blame for the rise in autism are unevenly distributed.
Image: Toddler on a swing, via Shutterstock.
Wednesday, April 11th, 2012
An online tool created by researchers at Harvard Medical School claims it can make the process by which young children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders far more efficient by having parents use an online tool to see if their child needs early interventions like speech, physical, and occupational therapies. HealthDay News reports:
The process relies on seven questions plus a short home video of an individual child.
The research team said its method could reduce by nearly 95 percent the time it takes to diagnose autism and could be easily included in routine child screening practices, greatly increasing the number of at-risk children who get checked for the disorder.
“We believe this approach will make it possible for more children to be accurately diagnosed during the early critical period when behavioral therapies are most effective,” Dennis Wall, an associate professor of pathology and director of computational biology initiative at the Center for Biomedical Informatics, said in a medical school news release.
The survey is currently available online, as researchers continue to gather data on its effectiveness. The current version of the survey is for parents of children who already have an ASD diagnosis. Though the online tool is intended to streamline the diagnostic process so parents and clinicians alike can save time and start therapies earlier, parents should always discuss developmental concerns with their child’s pediatrician.
Image: Computer mouse, via Shutterstock.