Proposed changes to the definition of autism, currently under review by an expert panel appointed by the American Psychiatric Association, are expected to significantly reduce the soaring rate of autism diagnoses. The panel is completing work on the 5th edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or “The DSM.”

Cases of of autism and related disorders such as Asperger syndrome or “pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified” (PDD-NOS) have skyrocketed since the early 1980s, and many researchers believe the numbers are inflated due to vague criteria. The proposed change would consolidate all three diagnoses under one category, autism spectrum disorder, removing Asperger syndrome and PDD-NOS from the manual.

Under the current criteria, one can qualify for the diagnosis by exhibiting six or more of 12 behaviors. Under the proposed criteria, the patient would have to exhibit deficits on a much narrower menu: three deficits in social interaction and communication and at least two repetitive behaviors.

“We need to carefully monitor the impact of these diagnostic changes on access to services and ensure that no one is being denied the services they need,”  Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks, told  The New York Times. “Some treatments and services are driven solely by a person’s diagnosis, while other services may depend on other criteria such as age, IQ level or medical history.”

Physician’s Weekly wants to know… What do you think about changing the definition of autism? What benefits and/or pitfalls do you predict?