Thursday, November 21, 2013

2013: The Year Of Autism's Grand Error, The DSM5 Autism Spectrum Disorder

Photo by Harold L Doherty

The year 2013 will be remembered as the year the simplified DSM-5 Autism Spectrum Disorder definition was imposed on a very complex and diverse group of disorders and/or symptoms.  Catherine Lord, Susan Swedo and other members of the DSM-5 committee responsible for the definition change simply ignored criticisms of their proposals and pushed ahead because, in their minds, they know better than their critics.

It would be one thing if the DSM5 Autism Spectrum Disorder critics were simply parents like me. As mere irrational parents we had no standing, no credibility, no respect in the eyes of the DSM5 committee members and our views did not have to be considered.  What was amazing about the incredible stubbornness of the DSM5 committee members in pushing ahead though was the identity of some of the professional critics and the serious challenges that were dismissed without any serious response by the DSM5 team. Ritvo, Volkmar, Waterhouse,  are only a small sampling of the names of persons with important roles in the development of knowledge of, and thinking about, autism spectrum disorders who offered  criticisms of the DSM5 Autism Spectrum Disorder: 

"Abandoning criteria that have been in worldwide use for decades for new ones that may eliminate from 9% (their data) to 40% (prior reports) of previously diagnosed patients is neither scientifically nor morally justified."

- Commentary on the Application of DSM-5 Criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder Edward R. Ritvo, M.D.; Riva Ariella Ritvo, Ph.D. Am J Psychiatry 2013;170:444a-445. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.12101376

Dr. Fred Volkmar created considerable awareness of the DSM5 ASD changes and their likely impacts with a  preliminary study reported on in well known New York Times article in early 2013.  In a May 2013 abstract he also noted that:

"While some of the changes employed in the new DSM-5 approach are praiseworthy, others are much more complicated. There appears to be some significant potential for diagnostic change, essentially as – despite what might conceptually appear to be a broader tent of the autism spectrum – the DSM-5 approach seems likely to result in a narrower concept. This raises some concern about the impact on services for children in need as well as for comparison with previous research. Sadly we are, to a considerable extent, still in the dark on the extent of this change. Although the focus on standardized diagnostic instruments has some important advantages in the real world of clinics and schools, clinicians will not have had the opportunity to undertake extensive training. In some cases the new (but relatively unclear) social communication disorder concept may be invoked, but the lack of research on this putative condition poses other problems and its use might well be taken as an excuse to avoid service provision."

Dr. Lynn Waterhouse worked with Dr. Lorna Wing on the APA DSM-III-R diagnostic criteria for autism and is the author of Rethinking Autism: Variation and Complexity (2012) whose book was reviewed on the website by several learned commentators including Dr. Peter Szatmari who noted that "Waterhouse squarely tackles the "elephant in the room" in autism research; the complex heterogeneity seen at all levels of analysis.  The argument is sustained, learned and comprehensive. We shall all be dealing with this challenge for decades.

Dr. Waterhouse subsequently commented in an email to DSM-5 critic Dr. Allen Frances which he included in one of his Psychology Today commentaries on the DSM-5. In her email, after reviewing some of the reports and studies crtiquing the DSM-5's New Autism Spectrum Disorder Dr. Waterhouse stated:

"These and other independent research groups have reported that DSM-5 ASD criteria will significantly reduce the number of ASD diagnoses. Their findings counter Dr. Lord's claim that DSM-5 ASD criteria will not change the number of people diagnosed. Because nearly all of those excluded from a DSM-5 diagnosis have serious developmental social interaction impairment, they cannot be correctly diagnosed by any of the other DSM-5 childhood disorders, such as Social Communication Disorder or Intellectual Developmental Disorder. These children will need services that will be more difficult to obtain without a DSM-5 diagnosis. Unfortunately, the DSM-5 group has chosen to simply ignore data that don't conform with its beliefs." (Emphasis added, HLD)

The DSM-5 Autism Spectrum Disorder is a mistake, a huge mistake, supported not by research as was perpetually articulated by DSM-5 spokespersons but solely by the preferences and intellectual biases of of the DSM-5 committee team members who pushed the new definition ahead while ignoring contrary studies, criticisms and perspectives offered by MANY learned autism professionals and academics.

2013 is the Year of Autism's Grand Error - the DSM-5 NEW Autism Spectrum Disorder. 


Anonymous said...

Harold, the DSM5 would not have changed Conor's diagnosis or his eligibility to services.
The waiting time for diagnosis is already up to 1 and 1/2 years.
Simplification is needed for now.
It may exclude the 1% that were diagnosed as autistic and are now considered brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Harold, these are some hot topics in your blog. Not everyone will agree with what you have to say but it's your blog and you can says it.
I also think it's wise not to print every comment. This should not be a free for all from all sides but a way to learn from someones opinion and knowledge.
Keep blogging!