Dr. Manny: Autism diagnosis in danger?

A recent study that highlights the challenges of diagnosing autism suggests the disorder tends to go hand-in-hand with a variety of other mental and behavioral conditions in kids.

Researchers said that other disorders like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities can make it difficult to diagnose a child or can delay improvement in kids that are diagnosed early.

In my own experience, as a doctor and father of a child on the autism spectrum, I understand how certain behavioral conditions often accompany autism.

It’s because of these challenges associated with diagnosing children with autism that I’m worried about the proposed revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) in 2013.  I agree with the experts who claim when a revised definition of the disorder comes into effect, getting a diagnosis could become even more difficult than it already is – and this, at the cost of invaluable early intervention programs that significantly improve the lives of these children.

I have watched my son, who is now 14 years old, mature and develop social skills over the years because of early intervention. I remember a point in his life when he was not even able to speak, and now he’s fluent in two languages.

Because this disorder is so difficult to pinpoint, and it presents itself in each child differently, we don’t know enough to determine which tools are the best for diagnosis, and no two cases are the same. But what we do know, is that early intervention significantly improves outcomes.

So, my fear is the revision will reduce the number of children diagnosed, which will bring down the number of children qualifying for early intervention services.

Many children on the autism spectrum  suffer from anxiety – and that’s something I know firsthand.

But it’s something we need to be mindful of when working with these kids. If we look at the word anxiety, in its core definition, it is an uneasy feeling or apprehension about an uncertain event or matter. You could almost simplify it sometimes as being worried.

One of the most heart-wrenching parts of being the parent of an autistic child is to watch the frustration your child sometimes experiences. With Ryan, it was watching how he could fully understand, but sometimes his communications skills – especially when he was younger – were limited.

But this goes for anybody – when you are not able to express your inner-most feelings, you do develop an innate apprehension. Always questioning “Are they understanding me? Are they seeing my point of view?” – which sometimes is a natural course in the development of a mature form of expression in some of these children.

But nonetheless, I think the findings in this study could help researchers and therapists create better tools for early intervention and take into account, some of the psychological processes that go along with autism.