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For Parents: Autism Spectrum Disorder In DSM-5

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

The DSM-5 has made major changes in the way that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is diagnosed. Here are 5 practical tips for parents based on these changes: 

1) Understand the implications of eliminating Asperger’s Disorder. For most children, this change should not have much impact in the diagnostic process. It will impact some children who are higher functioning and who would have, in the past, been diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder. The DSM-5 includes severity criteria which were designed in part to incorporate these types of kids into the new diagnostic framework. That said, many in the field think that some kids may no longer receive a diagnosis if their symptoms are less severe. Some of the initial studies demonstrate that some kids who would have been diagnosed in the prior DSM will not receive a diagnosis using DSM-5. As a parent, be ready to have this discussion with a clinical provider – and be ready to ask questions like “If the old system was in place, would my child have been diagnosed as Asperger’s?” You may need to advocate more strongly than before for your child. Focus on the need for services that could make a difference for your child’s development and collaborate with your practitioners to make sure your child has every opportunity to benefit from intervention.

2) Understand the implications of eliminating other alternate diagnoses. DSM-5 does away with other diagnostic options like Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. The impact may be felt for kids who have many symptoms of ASD but not necessarily the exact profile. There may be no alternative diagnosis despite the fact that they have many developmental issues that need attention. Make sure your practitioners seem savvy about DSM-V and know how to make sure a kid with this kind of mixed presentation doesn’t get lost in the transition to the new diagnostic framework. Have that discussion with them and be satisfied – or seek out another opinion.

3) Beware of the severity criteria and insurance. Many clinicians have told me that they are concerned that insurers may balk at covering services for some children who are rated to show less severe symptoms. We don’t know this yet. Make sure your clinician is on top of these issues and that the team is ready to take on battles if necessary. You want to have confidence in your providers because this is all new and it is not clear how it will all unfold.

4) Remain vigilant about the early signs of autism. Just because the way ASD is diagnosed has changed in DSM-5, that doesn’t mean the warning signs have changed. They remain the same and you should be aware of the 7 early signs of autism.

5) Remember that early intervention still matters. If you suspect that your child may have ASD, it is better to get started as early as possible with the evaluation process – and if necessary intervention. Intervention helps any child, no matter what the severity, and early intervention is, right now, the best we have to offer kids with ASD. The fact that we have switched to DSM-5 does not alter the importance of early intervention – though, again, you need to be aware that you might need to fight harder to get intervention. It’s a fight worth taking on.

Autism Awareness via Shutterstock.com

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