Asperger's Syndrome to be Dropped From Psychiatrist's Flagship Manual

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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For the first time in nearly two decades, the nation's leading psychiatric organization is rewriting the definition of autism.

It's among dozens of changes to the manual that doctors use to diagnose patients with mental disorders.

The edit is controversial.

Some parents say it will jeopardize services for their children, others are hopeful it's the key that will unlock those services.

The latter position is the one Wichita's Linda Entriken is taking.

Just a few years after the mother of five gave birth to her daughter Madison, she noticed something.

"She would hear what someone would say to her and then she'd repeat it back to them. Then she'd say something and repeat it over and over," Entriken said.

Doctors diagnosed now nine-year-old Madison with Asperger's Syndrome. Many professionals consider Asperger's a high-functioning form of autism in which people have high intelligence and expert-like knowledge in a specific area but lack social skills.

But despite Asperger's relation to autism, the specific diagnosis has often led to road blocks with educators and insurance companies.

"We have struggled and fought but there are so many things that aren't covered," Entriken said.

So, she's hopeful a new change to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, will help her and other families.

The American Psychiatric Association voted Saturday to drop the specific Asperger's label from the manual and lump it under a new category, "Autism Spectrum Disorder." That category serves to clarify that autism can take many forms and symptoms can range from mild to severe.

"My hope is that putting it under the umbrella of autism will help with services for those kids in need," Entriken said.

But not everyone sees it that way.

Some with Asperger's embrace the term and don't want to see it folded into autism.

But the bigger concern for most families: they fear their kids would lose their diagnosis and then no longer be eligible for assistance.

That won't be the case, many experts argue.

"It is controversial but I think the controversy comes because there's not a lot of information out there," said Connie Erbert, Heartspring's Director of Autism Care and Outreach in Wichita.

Erbert says she hopeful the hundreds of experts behind the change are acting in patients' best interest.

She says parents should avoid getting wrapped up in the hype and instead talk to their trusted physicians about their questions.

There's time to sort things out, Erbert said. The new official manual won't be published until next year.

"I'm hoping by the time May comes around those questions will be answered," Erbert said.

But she says no matter what, this change is generating a healthy discussion that will increase awareness and help with the ultimate goal.

"It's all about knowing the child and not giving the child a label but giving them resources so they can be successful," Erbert said.


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