Amanda - posted on 02/15/2010 ( 7 moms have responded )
I've been asked by quite a few people how I feel about the new recommendations of the American Psychiatric Association to eliminate all autism-ish diagnoses (like Asperger's and Pervasive Development Disorder) and simply call everything autism. Everyone is going to be "on the spectrum," to a greater or lesser degree, so instead of receiving an Asperger's diagnosis, a person might be described as having "less severe autism."
To be honest, I don't know how I feel about it. We have long since given up on looking for meaning in labels. There was a time when we thought the diagnosis "autism" would mean something terrible for Billy, but it doesn't. We still have a joyful, smart, funny and loving child.
And his autism is markedly different from the autism affecting other children we meet at the doctor's office or in the lobby outside speech therapy. He is highly verbal, while another child might never learn to speak. Billy has difficulty with transitions and managing his emotions sometimes; a buddy of his from therapy has never had any behavior issues. Billy has a unique set of sensory processing issues: he loves to hug people deeply but doesn't want anyone touching his head. And those issues change from week to week, as he improves certain skills, matures and develops other issues. What works on week may not work the next -- or even from one day to the next.
There do seem to be some common symptoms among people with ASD (autism spectrum disorder): difficulty with eye contact, expressive communication delays and social awkwardness, to name a few. But based on that, I should probably be called autistic too; half the population could probably fall "on the spectrum." As I've said before, if autism is a spectrum, so is "normal" and most of us could debate all day where we fall on that one.
My point is that there doesn't seem to be much point in looking for one prescription for autism. If that's their plan with this universal diagnosis, then I'd have to protest. A diagnosis of autism, in my utterly inexpert opinion, should simply be a starting point to analyzing an individual child's deficits and determining treatment for those particular symptoms.
If this new perspective makes it easier for more people to receive treatment, and to receive it earlier, I'm all for it. If bigger numbers of diagnoses mean more funding for research, again, that sounds good to me.
And if this debate means that the public is better informed about what autism is -- and what it is not -- then that's great. I can't count the number of times someone has observed Billy and said, "I would never know he's autistic." If you're expecting Rainman, you're going to be very pleasantly surprised. Rainman is about as representative of autism as a Porta Potty is of architecture.
So I'll leave the label debates to those more expert than myself. Whether the American Psychiatric Association decides to call my son's disorder autism or "Tallahassee flu," we'll still have the same amazing child and count ourselves lucky every single day.
I'm interesting to hear your thoughts ...
Blogging for Billy at www.AmandaBroadfoot.com