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Autism And Schools, Aspergers And Teachers

Autism And Schools, Asperger And Teachers

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How A Diagnosis Is Made

The DSM or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and the ICD, The International Classification of Diseases, are the two most influential and widely used handbooks when diagnosing Asperger’s syndrome.   Although the DSM-IV is still used, it has been superceded by DSM-V. The latest version, DSM-V, appeared in 2013 and it subsumed Asperger’s syndrome within the broad descriptors for autism. This classification is now called autism spectrum disorder. The DSM and the ICD are used in Australia.

Only a medical practitioner with recognised qualifications in psychiatry can make a diagnosis. Everyone else’s opinion is just that.

Labelling Can Be Disabling

In the early 1990’s there was a steep increase in the number of children diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in the United States when the Federal Department of Education increased services for unspecified pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). The DSM-III was in operation. Diagnoses did not increase in California where services were not enhanced. And so the number of diagnoses of Asperger’s syndrome remained static.

As a result in the other states of the USA, some children with limitations in social communication were lumped in with children who were genuinely on the autism spectrum or had PDD. It was noted over time that they suffered loss of self-esteem, and loss of learning opportunities and mainstream experiences.

The DSM-IV articulated that for a diagnosis of Asberger’s the individual must exhibit “severe and sustained impairment in social interaction, and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests and activities that must cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”

I use the term Asperger’s because this is a term most people relate to for historical reasons. And this is, of course, the mildest form on the autism spectrum. And yet, it is obvious that the symptoms are quite serious.

Aspergers Is Obvious

These descriptors do not change now that Asbergers is a part of the autism spectrum disorder. All of the descriptors need to be present for a diagnosis to be made. In their mildest forms, these impairments still require support in the classroom.

Any teacher will recognise quite quickly “severe and sustained impairment” in communication, repetitive behaviour and restricted interests”. But it is not for teachers to suggest to others that this might be the diagnosis that should be made.  I don’t think teachers are doing that, but members of the public are. No parent would need to tell another person that their child has a Level 1 diagnosis. Asbergers is plain for all to see.

Aspergers Diagnoses In Australia

In Australia, the same two handbooks are used by psychiatrists to diagnose a child or adult on the autism spectrum. Of concern is the number of people in Australia diagnosed with autism, including the mild form of Asbergers, that increased by 42 per cent between 2012 and 2015. Diagnoses often come in twos and threes. So the number of diagnoses, 164,000, is not the number of individuals with a diagnosis. Nevertheless, there is an increase of around 50,000 people since 2012.

Reasons Some Parents Want An Autism Diagnosis

While there is greater awareness today than in previous decades, it does not allay my fears that there is a situation of over-diagnosis. Many parents of struggling children want a diagnosis such as this to get extra help for their child in the classroom which would not be available without it. And yet, it defies logic that, with the descriptors above, anyone could possibly miss a person walking in our midst or a child in the classroom who has a spectrum disorder.

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