As They Stand, Existing ASD Diagnoses Inconsistent at Best

Vietnamese child is examined during Pacific Partnership 2010.

So far, we’ve devoted three posts already to the proposed redefinition of autism in the DSM-V (see here, here and here). As with most things pertaining to the autism community, opinions are many and heated.

As a service provider and advocacy organization, the YAI Network doesn’t want to see anybody lose services. But there are a few solid reasons supporting a better, more clear definition of autism spectrum disorders than currently exists.

Back in November, a study showed just how inconsistent autism diagnoses are.
At 12 university-based research sites, there was wide variation in how best-estimate clinical diagnoses within the autism spectrum were assigned to individual children, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

In the field of autism spectrum disorders, diagnostic instruments have been helpful in defining populations, merging samples and comparing results across studies, according to background information in the article. Nevertheless, best-estimate clinical (BEC) diagnoses of specific autism spectrum disorders have long been the gold standard. These specific ASDs include autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger’s syndrome.

Catherine Lord, Ph.D., of Weill Cornell Medical College (who is also working on the DSM redefinition) and colleagues conducted an observational study to determine whether the relationships between behavioral appearance and clinical diagnoses of different ASDs vary across 12 university-based sites. The study included 2,102 participants (1,814 male) between 4 and 18 years of age who met autism spectrum criteria on two diagnostic assessments and who had a clinical diagnosis of an ASD. The study authors collected demographic, diagnostic and developmental data for genetic research.

The authors report that clinical distinctions among categorical diagnostic ASD subtypes were not reliable, even across sites with well-documented fidelity using standardized diagnostic instruments.

The authors point out that their study results have implications for revisions of current diagnostic frameworks. “Results support the move from existing subgroupings of autism spectrum disorders to dimensional descriptions of core features of social affect and fixated, repetitive behaviors, together with characteristics such as language level and cognitive function,” they conclude.

“Although distributions of scores on standardized measures were similar across sites, significant site differences emerged in best-estimate clinical diagnoses of specific autism spectrum disorders,” the authors write.

“Relationships between clinical diagnoses and standardized scores, particularly verbal IQ, language level and core diagnostic features, varied across sites in weighting of information and cutoffs,” they continue.

The authors suggest that differences in diagnoses could reflect regional variations. “For example, in some regions, children with diagnoses of autistic disorder receive different services than do children with other ASD diagnoses; elsewhere, autistic disorder diagnoses may be avoided as more stigmatizing than diagnoses of PDD-NOS or Asperger syndrome,” they write.

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One Response to As They Stand, Existing ASD Diagnoses Inconsistent at Best

  1. Pingback: Epidemic or Diagnostic Substitution? | The YAI Network’s

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