New Autism-Diagnosis Rules
Study says stricter definition of the condition means fewer children will meet threshold
Of the 6,577 children who were classified as having an autism spectrum disorder under the old diagnostic criteria, researchers found 5,339, or 81 percent, would have kept their diagnosis under the new guidelines.
"Most of the children who didn't make the cut, they didn't miss by a lot," Maenner said. "They only needed one additional criterion to meet the DSM-5 definition. They had four of the five."
Most kids who wouldn't have met the new definition missed because they didn't show problems with nonverbal communication, which means they didn't have trouble reading or using body language or facial expressions.
The study findings were published online Jan. 22 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Researchers caution that it's still not clear how the changes will play out in the real world. Doctors, for example, could change how they look for symptoms to better fit the new criteria. It's also possible that kids who don't qualify for an autism diagnosis could receive a new designation -- something called social communication disorder.
The latter is what seems to be happening, said Michael Rosanoff, associate director of public health research at Autism Speaks, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Autism Speaks is surveying parents to find out how the changes are affecting their children. Though the results are still early, and it's not a scientifically rigorous sample, he said they are seeing indications that children are being reclassified using the new criteria.
"What we've seen from the first 600 persons participating in the survey, is that there is a percentage of individuals being asked to be re-evaluated by school districts or insurers using DSM-5 criteria," he said.
About one-third of those who were reclassified said they had lost access to services.
"Our sense, from our survey and previous studies that have been published, is that individuals who are losing their autism diagnosis are getting a diagnosis of social communication disorder. The concern is there are no clinical guidelines for how to treat social communication disorder," Rosanoff said, which means that kids who get the diagnosis may not qualify for any services to treat it.
"We're concerned about this," he said.