An expert panel appointed by the American Psychiatric Association is working on the new definition, which would be included in the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the standard reference for mental disorders, research, treatment and insurance, The New York Times reported.
The study results, presented at a meeting of the Icelandic Medical Association, are preliminary, but indicate at least 1 million U.S. children and adults have a diagnosis of autism or a related disorder, like Asperger's syndrome or "pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified."
People with Asperger's or pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified, have some of the same social struggles as those with autism but do not meet the definition for the full-blown autism, the experts said.
The new definition would consolidate all three diagnoses under one category, autism spectrum disorder, eliminating Asperger's syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified, from the manual.
Under the current definition, a person can qualify for the diagnosis by exhibiting six or more of 12 behaviors. With the new definition, one would have to exhibit three deficits in social interaction and communication and at least two repetitive behaviors -- much narrower criteria, the experts said.
Parents and those who care for those with the disorder are concerned that treatment and services might be cut off or restricted under the proposed definition, The Times said.