Guest blogger Jo Ann Simons, President/CEO Cardinal Cushing Centers, Hanover, MA
In less than two years, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) will be published by the American Psychiatric Association. This detailed book functions as a bible for countless physicians and other health care professionals, as well as government, insurance and legal agencies. Clinicians worldwide use it to diagnose and develop treatment plans and options for mental illnesses and disabilities. But this edition, the 5th, brings with it a huge change: eliminating Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder as separate diagnosis. Instead, both diagnoses will be considered an unnamed subset of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Of course change is rarely greeted with complete enthusiasm and these plans are no exception. Some advocates feel the new definition of Autism Spectrum Disorder is too broad and many within the Asperger’s community prefer being separate from the general autism category. Still others believe it will lead to earlier identification of individuals with what is now called Asperger’s and this in turn will lead to earlier and more effective services. Professionals, too, are divided on the potential impact of this change, with proponents arguing it will give more freedom to physicians to make a diagnosis and greater latitude to decide the best course of treatment on a case-by-case basis.
Here at the Cardinal Cushing Centers, we welcome any change that leads to earlier identification and intervention which in turn leads to improved lives and outcomes for people with disabilities. Although it’s too early to assess the impact of this change and the debate is certain to continue over the next two years and well beyond, there is one other planned change in DSM-5 that we can all get behind: changing the diagnostic term “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability.” This will bring the DSM criteria into alignment with terminology used by other disciplines and organizations and serve as a potent reminder that this disability deserves the consideration and respect of every other one.
– Jo Ann Simons