Defining Autism

The New York Times recently published an article on the medical debate over the definition of autism — whether it has been defined too loosely, and needs to be narrowed. The article  explores some of the potential consequences that the outcome of this debate could have, and looks to the anger and fear that has been generated amongst many parents with children currently defined as autistic. Amy Harmon writes,

A study reported on Thursday found that proposed revisions to theAmerican Psychiatric Association’s definition would exclude about three-quarters of those now diagnosed with milder forms of autism called Asperger syndrome or “pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified,” also known as P.D.D.-N.O.S. These are people who have difficulties with social interaction but do not share the most severe impairments of children with classic autism.

Some parents fear that children deemed “on the edge” of autism will have their treatment options limited with the proposed narrowing of the definition. In contrast, some parents with severely autistic children support narrowing the definition.

“Everyone on the spectrum benefits when money and services available are applied more specifically and appropriately to the individual needs of each person affected,” said Mark L. Olson, of Henderson, Nev., whose daughter, 16, does not speak. Mr. Olson has argued on hisblog that those with more severe needs have been overshadowed by people with the Asperger diagnosis, who have typical intelligence and language development.

The article goes on to discuss the implications that labelling a child with ‘autism’ has on that child. On the one hand, it often opens up the opportunity for treatment, while on the other, the child is deemed abnormal.

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