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New Definition of Autism Drops Asperger, PDD-NOS Distinctions

Changes proposed to the diagnostic guide used by psychologists, including substantial changes to the definition of autism, are all but final.

Late last week, the American Psychiatric Association's Board of Trustees approved the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5, which will be available when the manual is published in the spring.

The change to the definition of autism entails recasting the disability, which currently includes a range of labels including Asperger syndrome, autism, and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified, into the single autism spectrum disorder.

Although there have been fears that the consolidation could mean that some people now diagnosed with a form of autism may lose their diagnoses and any services and aid their condition may yield, it could have the opposite effect, one autism expert said.

Catherine Lord of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, who was on the psychiatric group's autism task force, told the Associated Press that anyone who met criteria for Asperger's in the old manual would be included in the new autism diagnosis. She said one reason for the change was that some states and school districts don't provide services for children and adults with Asperger's, or provide fewer services than those diagnosed with autism.

Because all the changes made won't be known until the manual is public, it's unclear whether another change regarding the definition of mental retardation has been incorporated into the new version.

In a statement, the APA noted that there will be a change to the criteria for specific learning disorders. The condition will be broadened "to represent distinct disorders which interfere with the acquisition and use of one or more of the following academic skills: oral language, reading, written language, or mathematics."

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