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Low Functioning Autistic Persons Remain Invisible on CNN and in the DSM-5's New Autism Spectrum Disorder

Posted May 15 2011 9:53am

Elizabeth Landau, a CNN Health writer/producer, mentions briefly the DSM-5's New Autism Spectrum Disorder, in a report on the organizational changes in the DSM-5 in Psychiatry 'bible' structure overhauled . Ms. Landau's discussion of changes in the DSM autism classification focuses exclusively on the impact the formal inclusion of Asperger's syndrome in Autistic Disorder will have on persons with Asperger's and parents of children with Asperger's.  No mention is made of the impact on that the changed definition of autistic disorder will have on the invisible autistics, those with actual autistic disorder, often low functioning, with intellectual disabilities, who are likely to live their adult lives in some level of residential or institutional care:

"This organizational framework is trying to emphasize that we don’t have strict divisions between disorders," Regier said.

For instance, Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, instead of being its own diagnosis, would now fall under the broader “austism spectrum disorders.” This move has some parents unhappy because "autism" sounds scarier than Asperger's, which has taken on its own identity in that community, and because children with Asperger's have specific educational needs that are different from kids with more severe autism.

But the association has heard from other parents frustrated that their children with Asperger's are denied special education benefits reserved for autism, Regier said. And biologically speaking, Asperger's is a form of autism, doctors say.





CNN, of course, is not unique in excluding mention of those with autistic disorder, particularly those severely affected by autism disorders, while discussing changes to the DSM autism diagnostic category.The process started in 1994 with the DSM-IV. The DSM-IV revision included a de facto inclusion of Asperger's with Autism in the Pervasive Developmental Diosrders.  The new revision completes that process and waters down further the requirements for a diagnosis of autism. 

As previously noted by CDC autism expert Dr.  Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp the DSM-IV definition change, amongst other accomplishments, lowered the rate of persons with autism AND intellectual disabilities ... by expanding the definition of autism to include persons who were by diagnostic definition not intellectually disabled.  Autism's "vast majority" to quote Dr. Yeargin-Allsopp became a large minority.  With the new changes more persons without intellectual disability will be diagnosed as autistic under the watered down definition.  The APA will have taken another large step toward lowering the rates of persons with autism and intellectual disability, not by helping to improve the condition of those persons but by redefining them to a  smaller corner once again. 
It will be easier for APA members, and other health professionals,  to ignore low functioning autistic persons as they become a smaller and smaller percentage of the DSM's New Autism Spectrum Diosorder.  It will  also be  easier for Autism Speaks to continue its feel good "autism" fund raising by promoting  the careers of very high functioning persons with Aspergers, like John Elder Robison and Alex Plank, as the faces of autism when their diagnoses are officially changed from Aspergers to Autism Spectrum Disorder. And it will be easier for Autism Speaks to retain its status as Autism Without Intellectual Disability Speaks.
Meanwhile the vast majority of those currently diagnosed with Autistic Disorder, those who also have intellectual disabilities, those with low functioning autism disorders, will become even more invisible to the public eye. 
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