The results of a recent study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Waisman Center show the age at which a child is diagnosed with autism is correlated with the behavior he or she exhibits. This finding sheds light on a disorder that remains very elusive to researchers and psychologists.
Autism is one type of ASD, or autism spectrum disorder. Disorders of this type are characterized by a lack of social aptitude as well as repetitive behavior and communication issues. Because there are more than 600 different combinations of symptoms that can qualify for autistic disorder, diagnosing the disorder can be a complicated and uncertain process.
The results of the study show a correlation between behavior exhibited and age diagnosed with autism in a sampling of 2,757 eight-year-old autistic children. The information was gathered from 11 different surveillance sites in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network and studied to reveal information on the disorder. The results show repetitive behavior, trouble with nonverbal communication and having more behavioral features in general are all associated with earlier diagnosis.
One problem with the current state of diagnostics in the community is the results of laboratory studies do not match up with what happens outside of the lab. According to Matthew Maenner, head author of the study and researcher at the Waisman Center, in the real world, there is less of a sense of importance given to behavior as it pertains to diagnosis. Because of this disparity, there is as much as a three-year gap between the age at which autism can be diagnosed and the age it most often is. The study from the Waisman Center found in the examined cases diagnosis in communities usually does not come until age five, though diagnosis at age two could be possible. This is a gap of time that may make a world of difference in the life of a child needing support that can come only after diagnosis.
The emphasis on early diagnosis is now stronger than ever. Maenner expressed that awareness is changing in a positive way as more and more light is shed on autism spectrum disorders. He stated diagnosing children earlier helps professionals get support systems in place. The systems of support are varying, with different communities having specialized education programs.
A big change in the world of diagnostics is coming this year, as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition is due to be released. This will be the first update to the collection in 13 years, and the potential for change is huge.
Maenner stated the new DSM-V will most likely change things in the field of psychology, affecting prevalence estimates and differences in criteria for disorders. If the criteria for autism are drastically different from that of the DSM-IV-TR—the most recently updated edition of the DSM—it could mean big changes for the public’s understanding of autism as well as the way diagnosticians approach the puzzle of autism spectrum disorders.
The DSM-V is to be released in May of 2013.