by Mitch Nagler, M.A. LMHC
The American Psychiatric Association has made what seems to be a confusing and disturbing decision to change how autistic spectrum disorders are going to be defined in the near future. Anyone with a child or family member on the spectrum, especially if they are currently diagnosed with a milder form, such as Asperger Syndrome or PDD-NOS, should be concerned about how these changes are going to impact access to health, educational and social services for their loved ones. It is possible, if not likely, that when these changes are put into effect in 2013, many who qualify for services now, will not meet the new standards, and thus be left without therapeutic options.
What we have learned since the current diagnostic criteria were put into effect in the DSM-IV in 1994, is that early intervention is critical for making positive changes in performance. Diagnostic tools have been developed that now make diagnosis possible as early as 18 months of age. Children and their families that have had access to the creative and important support services in all important areas of life, have made extraordinary improvements. If/when these changes to the DSM-V are put into place, insurance coverage, school services, and institutional support programs are likely all going to be curtailed for many people.
As the Director of the Bridges to Adelphi Program, and as a private practitioner, I have worked with hundreds of high school and college aged individuals with diagnoses of High Functioning Autism, Asperger Syndrome, and PDD-NOS. Most of them came from supportive elementary, middle school and high school environments. Many also received outside support and counseling services. As they have progressed through their lives, whether in their college careers at Adelphi, or elsewhere, I have seen first hand how important the early interventions were in their development. In fact, as we begin to graduate Bridges students from Adelphi, I worry about the younger students that are still in Pre-K or elementary school.
I am worried that if/when these proposed diagnostic changes are put into effect; the developmental future of young individuals with these diagnoses will be negatively impacted. Many who would have been able to build independent, successful lives, and enroll in programs like the Bridges to Adelphi Program, may not be able to do so because they will not have access to the important early interventions and support services.
My advice is to do what I did. Call the American Psychiatric Association, at 703-907-7300, and tell them that you object to these changes. Tell them that you have a family member or loved one who may be excluded from receiving services if these changes go through.
Mitch Nagler, M.A. LMHC, is a private practitioner and an Assistant Director at the Adelphi Student Counseling Center. He is also the Director of the Bridges to Adelphi Program, a multifaceted intervention program that includes coaching, learning strategies, behavioral modeling, and peer mentoring that addresses social, academic and vocational areas.