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Redefinition Of Autism Could Impact Minn. Families

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - In the coming months there will be a big change in how we define autism.

The newest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) will be updated - essentially making the diagnosis of autism more general. It also means certain conditions, like Asperger's, will be dissolved into a new autism spectrum.

Not long ago, Mary Moen and her son, Max, couldn't sit down to a simple game of Scrabble. As a young child, Max was diagnosed with more than one developmental disorder. He lacked focus and concentration.

"It was too calm of a game, or a game that required too much focus," said Moen, as she played Scrabble with her son.

He's spent years working hard to overcome his challenges with therapy and help.

"It's eight years' worth of therapy, special schools, and labels and being up front about those labels," she said.

But the labels Moen used to explain her son's disorder will soon disappear when the DSM is updated.

Right now, there are classifications for Asperger's and other high functioning disorders. Once the change happens, those classifications will be eliminated and autism will fall on a spectrum with differing degrees of severity.

Pat Pulice, the director of autism services at Fraser, says the idea behind the change is to make diagnosis easier and less confusing.

"There is some confusion inherent, in here, that I think going to this new system will be helpful," Pulice said.

But there's concern the new definition could affect how a child is diagnosed, as well as services or treatment opportunities, in those crucial years of development.

"Any time you change criteria there's the possibility that there's somebody that's not going to fit in the criteria as in other cases," Pulice said.

With the fifth edition of the DSM scheduled for a May release, the autism community is still waiting to see how the changes will impact each family.

It's expected that this new diagnosis won't affect any services in schools. Families will have to check with their insurance company to see if they'll be affected.

The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association.

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