DSM Changes, Good or Bad?: Special Needs Living

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Doctors are currently in the process of revising the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). One of the revisions stands to lump several childhood disorders together under one umbrella "autism spectrum disorders," which would include autism as well as Asperger's Syndrome, often described as "high functioning" autism.

This week in Special Needs Living, CafeMom aurorabunny, mom to 3-year old Brody, who has autism, discusses the pros and cons, on the individual level, of these new changes to the DSM.


Changes to DSM: More Harm Than Good for Children with Special Needs?

by aurorabunny

Since Cafe Cynthia recently shed some light on new proposed changes to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), I wanted to elaborate a little on my thoughts about the issue this week. The "proposed changes" that I'm referring to would include listing Asperger's Syndrome under Autism in the book, among other small revisions.

I'll admit that I have a lot of emotional feelings about this issue. I tried to first make myself think about how this would affect children before letting my emotions come into play, but I feel a little bit unclear in that area as well. It's obvious that children and individuals with Asperger's (often called high-functioning autism) often require therapies and special services to help them in certain areas, and if holding the label of "Autism" helps them to obtain those services, that would definitely be a big positive. However, who's to say how much it would help at all?

Although my experiences are limited to people whom I have met and opinions I have formed, I can honestly say that I have never met a mom of an Asperger's child who describes their child as having the same issues and needs as my son, who is much more severe on the autism spectrum. Please don't misunderstand me when I say that; I know Asperger's has its own unique challenges. I just don't think those challenges are the same and therefore it seems even MORE damaging to lump these diagnoses together when they seem as different as day and night to me. While a child with Asperger's may need intervention and therapy to learn how to act more socially appropriate, a child with more severe autism may need years of therapy to even begin to learn how to speak. These needs are very different, the services required are different, and all of that put together just makes me feel like the diagnoses should remain different as well.

Of course, we must also take in to account the feelings and thoughts of the individuals on the spectrum and with Asperger's. As much as it hurts me to hear this, I have heard multiple individuals with Asperger's express disgust at the idea of sharing a label with people who may be much lower functioning than they are. On the same hand, as intelligent and capable as my son is, I would hate for him to encounter difficulties in life from anyone who just read a brief description of Asperger's Syndrome and mistook his inability to do something as bad behavior. 

Although I still feel slightly torn about all of the new proposed changes to the DSM, I think many of us can agree that the most important question to ask is whether or not the new revisions would help children receive more accurate diagnosises and treatments. I don't think that lumping two separate (although sometimes similar) conditions together is the correct way to achieve that goal.

What do you think about the recent changes to the DSM, particularly lumping Asperger's in with autism spectrum disorders?


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Previous Special Needs Living posts from aurorabunny:

Marriage & Divorce: Special Needs Living

Alternative Treatments for Autism: Special Needs Living

Learning to Communicate: Special Needs Living

Thinking About TTC a Second Child: Special Needs Living

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