The definition of autism is about to be narrowed, which may cut the number of people designated as having autism or espcially Asperger’s, and will be likely to reduce the number who will be able to receive benefits because of their diagnosis. The question is, how many will be affected?:
At least a million children and adults have a diagnosis of autism or a related disorder, like Asperger syndrome or “pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified,” also known as P.D.D.-N.O.S. People with Asperger’s or P.D.D.-N.O.S. endure some of the same social struggles as those with autism but do not meet the definition for the full-blown version. The proposed change would consolidate all three diagnoses under one category, autism spectrum disorder, eliminating Asperger syndrome and P.D.D.-N.O.S. from the manual. 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.
No one really knows the answer; some studies indicate the effect will be small, and some large.
But that’s not the reason I’m highlighting this article. I’m interested mostly in how it underlines the ways in which the DSM’s (the diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals) diagnostic categories, and changes therein, can have fairly profound political, social, and economic effects. The decisions made about how to modify the criteria for such diagnoses are not only clinical, but political and social and economic as well—and sometimes it may seem as though they are primarily political and social and economic.