Children who have some of the characteristics of autism, such as language delays and social problems, but who have only very subtle or not obvious repetitive behaviors, may be diagnosed with PDD-NOS. And those who have some characteristics of autism but who have good verbal skills, or who are highly intelligent, or who have some less obvious social impairment, are often said to have Asperger, Lord noted.
Within individual centers, health professionals were consistent on the criteria they used to diagnose children. The discrepancies emerged when comparing one center's diagnostic criteria to another's, she explained.
"It's really much more valid to talk about autism spectrum disorder," Lord said, with the acknowledgment that the people who fall within it can have a very wide range of abilities.
"Using one broad category and then characterizing the specific strengths and challenges of each child may be clinically more useful," added Dawson. "That said, people who have come to identify with a specific diagnosis, such as Asperger syndrome, may want to continue to use that diagnostic label. We need to be sensitive to the fact that some people with autism spectrum disorder may not embrace these diagnostic changes."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about autism spectrum disorders.
SOURCES: Catherine Lord, Ph.D., director, Institute for Brain Development, Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York City; Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., chief science officer, Autism Speaks; Nov. 7, 2011, Archives of General Psychiatry, online
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