National Health Institutes want input on Asperger revision

National Health Institutes want input on Asperger revision

(District of Columbia) After investing nearly $200 million of public money in research and treatment services related to autism spectrum disorders, the National Institutes of Health is calling for input from health professionals and the scientific community about the implications of new definitions of autism.

Last spring, the American Psychiatric Association ratified the elimination of Asperger’s syndrome as a standalone disorder and instead included the condition as a part of the broader category of “autism spectrum disorders.”

Although the change was included in last year’s update of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – the so-called “bible of mental disorders” – the revision has proved controversial.

Among other critics, the head of the National Institute of Mental Health almost immediately criticized the new handbook as lacking scientific validity.

In a public notice issued earlier this month, the NIH – which is comprised of health institutes covering children’s issues, deafness and communicative disorders, environmental sciences, mental health and neurological conditions – asked specifically for responses to three key issues:

  • How the change in diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders or ASD might impact on “research methodology, including participant selection and characterization, measurement tools, data analysis, and interpretation of results.”
  • How questions or concerns raised around the changes may be resolved within the context of research investigations and studies.
  • What specific research questions or methodologies could be employed to inform questions or concerns about the impact of changes in diagnostic criteria for ASD on clinical practice and policy.

For school administrators, such questions might seem overly academic given the change in ASD is not likely to impact many students. That is, under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, most experts believe that students who previously qualified for special education services will mostly likely continue to qualify – the only difference is the precise diagnosis used to identify the student’s condition.

Still, because IDEA was last updated more than a decade ago and the likelihood of Congress acting anytime soon is increasingly remote, there is a potential pitfall for school administrators and mental health professionals if only around semantics. The day-to-day operations of special education programs require significant amounts of collaboration between school personnel and outside experts as well as parents and students. Indecision and disagreement over the definition of Asperger’s syndrome, some observers have said, can only complicate an already emotional and problematic landscape.

Input to the NIH will be taken through May 12.

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