Autism and the DSM (part 1)

In my post Who decides what’s autistic, anyway? I posed the question of how, if at all, the diagnostic criteria for autism should be modified in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly referred to as the DSM. This made the implicit assumption that autism should be defined in the DSM at all. But is that a valid assumption?

Every now and then, like in MOM-NOS’ post that inspired my post on prevention and cure or some comments to that post, homosexuality is used as an analogy to autism as a way to discuss how people and society’s views can change toward those who are different from the cultural norm. In fact, homosexuality was included in the first two editions of the DSM and was only removed in 1973.

One of the basic arguments that anti-cure autism advocates have made – me included – goes along the lines of, “There is nothing to cure, that’s just the way they are.” Is that the same as saying, “Autism is not a disorder, it is just a different way of ‘being’, like being shy, an extroverted socialite, or (sticking to the analogy) gay?” And if so, is that the same as saying, “Autism shouldn’t be in the DSM.”

Should autism – or Pervasive Development Disorders in general – be included in the DSM?

Before we answer, it is important that we consider the role an autism diagnosis plays in the life of an autistic child. A diagnosis of autism is the basis for much, if not all, of the educational and other services that autistic children receive from the government and education system. (At least that is the case in the US.) If autism is not a disorder described in the DSM, and therefore not recognized as requiring special accomodations such as an IEP, what does this mean?

Granted, even without a diagnosis it would be obvious that our autistic kids are different and will still require and receive some special services; NT kids are identified by local school personnel all the time for speech related issues early in elementary school and given the appropriate speech therapy, all without the formal process of IEPs. But most autistic kids need a bit more support and services than a local school is able (or willing) to accommodate on their own.

If we argue that our autistic kids don’t need to be “cured,” how can we justify that our autistic kids should receive special treatment and services above and beyond what the other kids who also don’t need to be cured of anything receive. [My personal response to that is that every child should have an IEP, but I know that is not going to happen for many ($$$$) reasons.] Especially when you consider that in many places it is difficult enough getting the needed services when there is a diagnosis.

So, should autism stay in the DSM? I say, “Yes.” But this, in turn, raises some more questions:

If I think that autism should be in the DSM, am I not admitting that there is something ‘wrong’ with my child?

And if I’m saying that, how can argue against a cure?

To be continued….

tagged as: Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, IEP, Parenting, DSM