Parents have good reason to fear the redefining of autism

The global reaction to news that a US panel of experts in psychiatry is proposing to redesign the definition of autism has been nothing short of explosive.

The incendiary move has not only struck fear into the hearts of parents of autistic children but also sparked a wider debate among medics and academics about why diagnostic rates have sky-rocketed.

This is because narrowing the criteria of the definition will have serious ramifications; affecting the status of autistic people within society and, crucially, their access to expensive extra services.

The experts – appointed by the American Psychiatric Association – are in the process of revamping a manual known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V).

According to the New York Times, this will be the first major revision of the DSM – which is the standard reference for mental disorders, research, treatment and insurance decisions – in 17 years.

Although the document is not due to be finalised until the end of 2012, the New York Times notes that one study already predicts the new definition is likely exclude many individuals.

However, the DSM 5 panel “strongly disagrees”.

In the 1940s, researchers in the US began to use the word “autism” to identify children exhibiting emotional or social problems but British medics only followed suit in the 60s.

Autism affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people as well as how they make sense of the world around them.

Some people are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have learning disabilities requiring specialist support.

For example, something as pedestrian as teeth cleaning requires a parent to carry out an inordinate amount of thought and preparation beforehand because the child “may react badly to care being delivered because of a previous bad experience“.

People with Asperger syndrome – a form of autism – possess fewer problems with speech but may still experience difficulties communicating.

About 1 in 100 people in the UK have autism. (The National Autistic Society)

Unsurprisingly, the debate over redefining the incurable condition has exposed deep divisions among medics and families.

Allen Frances, who was the chair of the DSM IV Task Force and is the Professor Emeritus at US-based Duke University, wrote in the Huffington Post “the sudden increase in rates of autism comes from the vagueness and easy elasticity of its definition at the milder boundaries of its spectrum”.

He advocates the narrowing of the definition, along with “de-coupling school services from the diagnosis”.

“Severe, classic autism is clearly defined and absolutely unmistakable,” he concluded.

But Gillian Loughran, Editor of Autism Eye – a magazine for the parents and professionals who care for children with the incurable condition – says DSM V “is being seen within the autism community as a way for governments to curtail the sky-rocketing rate of reported cases of autism worldwide, and with it the need for services and benefits”.

She and her publisher husband, Mark Hayes, have spent more than £160,000 on “vital interventions” for their autistic son, Finn.

She added: “We went all the way to the British High Courts twice to fight for early intervention funding.

“The increase in pollution correlates with the rise in autism and chronic toxicity seen in children with autism, which can give rise to the secondary conditions that often affect them, such as inflammatory bowel disease.”

Given the dire state of global economies, it is highly unlikely sufferers not categorised as autistic will continue to be provided for as they were prior to the redefinition.

Hence, they will be the losers and governments will be the obvious winners.

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Fired Starbucks worker’s rant over minimum wage

The Huffington Post tweeted a You Tube video today of a Starbucks employee ranting about the customers he served before he was fired from his job.

It was hilarious to watch and I immediately recognised his vivid and comical descriptions of them.

But this American young man’s incandescence also personifies the harsh reality for people existing on the minimum wage.

The Liberal Democrats have voted for a regionally variable minimum wage. This move will presumably assuage fears that a national one will “destroy jobs”.

The independent reports that in April last year, almost 500,000 people were paid less than £3 an hour.

The newspaper also revealed that Baroness Shirley Williams had “indicated the situation may have worsened” since the wages councils were abolished last year.

If the only way we can get our economy moving in the right the direction is to exploit the already disadvantaged, then we are in trouble.

Self-help gurus such as Anthony Robbins and Robin Sharma advocate chasing your dreams.

This is because a life without prospects is no life at all.

Rebels reach central Tripoli

When I started writing this post in the early evening Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had vowed to stay in Tripoli “until the end”.

He then called on his supporters around the country to help liberate the capital from a rebel offensive.

In an audio message played by state television he said he was “afraid that Tripoli will burn”.

By 2200 BST, I was absolutely gripped by Sky’s Alex Crawford unflinching reports from Libya.

Her description of the advancement was punctuated by gun fire lighting up the sky like fireworks and jubilant rebels, along with civilians who had surrounded her, chanting: “Allahu akbar!” (“God is great!”)

Meanwhile, Gaddafi’s spokesman, Mussa Ibrahim, claimed in a broadcast a few minutes later that 1,300 people had been killed in the last 11 and a half hours and laid the blame for the deaths at NATO’s door.

He went on to call for a cease-fire.

Sky News then reported that the rebels had revealed Saif Al-Islam, Col Gaddafi’s son, had been captured.

An ex-colleague of mine posted a comment on Facebook questioning whether the rebels have a plan to govern the oil-producing country.

The National Transitional Council (NTC) is now recognised as Libya’s legitimate authority by many countries including the British government which unfroze £91m in UK assets belonging to the Arabian Gulf Oil Company, a Libyan oil firm under the NTC’s control.

The head of the NTC’s political committee, Fatih Baja, told Reuters: “We’ve been preparing for this since the first month of the revolution.”

However, the rebels comprise different factions and ethnic and tribal divisions.

Only time will tell…