"The labels are pretty meaningless, because people are using the same general terms as if they mean the same thing, when they really don't," Dr. Lord says. "Because clinicians may not be using labels appropriately or diagnosing accurately, they may not be getting a sense of children's strengths and weaknesses and what therapy is best for them."
Clinicians across centers varied in how they weighed different factors and in the thresholds they set to make diagnoses. Although verbal IQ strongly influenced diagnoses at most centers, there were striking differences in the cutoff points used at each site to classify individuals into specific categories. The effect of age on diagnoses, and the specific age cutoff points, also varied dramatically across sites. "This doesn't make sense. You don't want to be told that you have a cold if you're 7 and a bacterial infection if you're 12, when you present with identical symptoms," Dr. Lord says.
The variability in clinical diagnoses could reflect regional differences, Dr. Lord says. For instance, services in some regions may be available only to children with a diagnosis of autistic disorder, but this same diagnosis may be stigmatizing or limit school options in other regions. Clinicians may also vary in how they take into account an individual's level of irritability and hyperactivity when judging the severity of autism spectrum disorder, Dr. Lord adds.
Because of the inconsistencies in best-estimate clinical diagnoses, the use of standard diagnostic manuals to classify individuals into subcategories of autism spectrum disorder should be reconsidered, Dr. Lord says. "It's very important for clinicians to use information from dimensions that directly relate to autism spectrum disorders, in addition to verbal IQ and the level of irritability and hyperactivity," she says. "The take-home message is that there really should be just a general category of autism spectrum disorder, and th
|Contact: Takla Boujaoude|
New York- Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center/Weill Cornell Medical College