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Surprising Science

New Autism Definition Will Exclude Many

Under the first major modification in 17 years to the manual that defines mental disorders, definitions of autism, Asperger syndrome and developmental disorder will be brought together.

What’s the Latest Development?

For the first time in 17 years, a major revision to the nation’s standard reference for mental disorders will redraw the diagnostic guidelines for developmental disorders like autism and Asperger syndrome, making diagnoses less frequent: “Under the current criteria, a person can qualify for the diagnosis by exhibiting 6 or more of 12 behaviors; under the proposed definition, the person would have to exhibit 3 deficits in social interaction and communication and at least 2 repetitive behaviors, a much narrower menu.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The proposed changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, will unite the definitions of autism, Asperger and pervasive developmental disorder under one set of symptoms. According to some estimates, nearly half of those currently diagnosed would become intelligible for government assistance in the form of special education, housing assistance and disability pay, particularly individuals with high cognitive abilities. The difficulty in diagnosing mental disability is often due to a lack of clearly definable physical symptoms.

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