Major changes coming to way Autism is diagnosed

Published: May. 6, 2013 at 9:08 PM CDT|Updated: May. 13, 2013 at 8:45 PM CDT
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Megan Barnhill and her family. Barnhill's son was diagnosed with Asperger's two years ago.
Megan Barnhill and her family. Barnhill's son was diagnosed with Asperger's two years ago.

Starting this month, major changes are coming to the way Autism is diagnosed.

The American Psychiatric Association, or APA, which writes the "Bible" on how to diagnose mental illness, is changing its Autism guidelines.

That has some parents worried the new definition will exclude their children.

"I was terrified. My initial gut reaction was our kids are going to lose their diagnosis. They're going to lose treatment, they're going to lose therapy," Megan Barnhill says. Barnhill's son has Asperger's.

Like many parents with kids with Asperger's and other previously diagnosed Pervasive Developmental Disorders, or PDD, Barnhill was scared when she learned about the changes coming to Autism diagnosis.

Since her son, Judah, was diagnosed with Asperger's two years ago, therapy has made a huge difference for him.

"Tremendously. In fact, we had an episode where we had an insurance glitch and we lost insurance for a while. They had to refigure that, and he ended up going about four to six weeks without therapy and completely regressed," Barnhill says.

Starting this month, the APA is doing away with the Asperger's diagnosis, as well as other PDD diagnosis and is instead making one category called Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD.

That has many parents worried less children will be diagnosed with Autism.

"This is a great opportunity for insurance companies and schools to get away with not providing services," Barnhill says.

But Dr. Jim Schroeder, a pediatric psychologist at St. Mary's, says that may not be the case.

"Until this all plays out, they're still very similar to the previous DSM and I don't think families should be alarmed at this point," Dr. Schroeder says.

He says if your child has already received a diagnosis, things shouldn't change much

"They've said anyone who's previously diagnosed should maintain the same. They should still have an Autism Spectrum Diagnosis."

In Barnhill's case, it turns out that with the new guidelines, Judah will actually be eligible for more services. She says she hopes other parents don't get discouraged.

"There's a lot of leeway in the way it's all worded, where doctors, they can get these kids re-diagnosed. If the parent's fight for their kids," Barnhill says.

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