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Redefining Autism Could be Life-Changing for Many Ohioans

February 9, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Autism cases have skyrocketed in the past decade. Now, an expert panel of the American Psychiatric Association is reassessing its definition. The change could affect the lives of Ohioans diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

The revision is expected to narrow the criteria, which means individuals with higher-functioning autism could lose that classification. Barb Yavorcik, executive director of the Autism Society of Ohio, says that could result in a loss of life-changing therapies, treatments and services.

"The fact that an individual has a label or doesn't have a label doesn't mean that they don't need the services. We need to make sure we are providing that better diagnosis and better identification, and that we continue to get the services that people need."

In Ohio, an autism diagnosis helps determine eligibility for services such as occupational therapy, speech therapy and respite care. Additionally, it is often needed to access medical services and medication. As decisions on the definition are made over the next year, the Autism Society would like to see an in-depth analysis of the effects the changes would have on individuals receiving services now and in the future.

As the changes are considered, Yavorcik notes that it is crucial that individuals be appropriately diagnosed by age 3, so the proper care can begin. She says early action can drastically change outcomes and improve lives.

"Early intervention is key in a better prognosis for individuals with autism. Without that early diagnosis or even without any diagnosis, qualifying for intervention services is going to be difficult for families."

Research from the Yale Child Study Center scheduled to be published in the next few weeks finds that only 45 percent of those diagnosed with higher-functioning forms of autism might meet the new criteria.

More information is available at autismohio.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH