Expert Panel Proposes Changes in Definition of Autism


A January 19, 2012 New York Times article reported that a new study proposes changes in the definition of autism that could significantly decrease the number of individuals diagnosed with the condition.  The rate of autism diagnoses has significantly increased since the 1980’s; current estimates are as high as one in 100 children in some areas. A panel of mental health experts appointed by the American Psychiatric Association is reviewing the current definition of autism and presented its preliminary results on January 19th.  The results “offer the latest and most dramatic estimate of how tightening the criteria for autism could affect the rate of the diagnosis.”  Quoting one expert, “the proposed changes would put an end to the autism epidemic.”  According to the article, individuals who don’t meet the panel’s new criteria for a diagnosis of autism may encounter difficulty in obtaining the health, educational and social services to which they currently have access, including services school districts provide for children in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  However, according to PCG IDEA consultant Sue Gamm, Esq., “even if the proposed changes do not align with the current IDEA regulation that defines the disability of autism, school districts would be required to comply with the IDEA definition until and unless the U.S. Department of Education changes that definition.”  The new criteria are expected to be finalized by December 2012.

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