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Autism Controversy in Developmental Psychology, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 1176

Essay

The neurodevelopmental disorder known as autism can appear in a variety of manifestations. This diversity has caused regular shifts in diagnostic methods as medical science struggles to keep up with new understandings of the disease, which was once thought to have emotional origins. Many controversies have arisen from the progression of autism research, from the publically explosive but fundamentally flawed claims that vaccines are related to the disorder to the more reasonable concerns raised over increasing rates of positive diagnoses. Among the main areas of contention are the validity of evaluation tools for use with children that have yet to achieve a standardized minimum level of development and the influence of diagnostic methods alone in determining the likelihood of autism being identified on a case to case basis. The latter point is the focus of the article discussed below, which suggests that much of the rise in autism diagnoses rates can be attributed to changes in diagnostic frameworks.

Changes in Diagnostic Guidelines and Autism Rates

A 2009 study by King and Bearman was conducted to examine the relationship between changes in diagnostic measures and recorded incidences of autism. Their research utilized information obtained from the California Department of Developmental Services from the years between 1992 and 2005. Over 600 subjects were included based on the criteria of originally being solely diagnosed with mental retardation before they were identified as having autism. The time of the later diagnosis was compared with the implementation dates of several important alterations in standard autism diagnostic guidelines like those found in the many revisions of the DSM manuals. Empirical tests were performed using correlational regression models to measure the relationship between the outcome variable of an autism diagnosis and the independent diagnostic guideline change factors while controlling for many potential confounds such as age, comorbid conditions, and support networks.

The researchers found that there was a significantly greater probability of subjects being diagnosed with autism in the years that guideline changes were made. This relationship was most evident in the period from 1998 to 2003, where a difference of nearly 15% was found. The impact on overall autism caseload amount is further discussed in light of the empirical findings, but these concepts are framed in theoretical terms rather than through experimentation. The authors can then claim that they have provided evidence for the association between rising autism diagnosis rates and changing guidelines but further research will be needed to understand the overall influence on caseload counts.

Relevance of Findings

The findings in this study are important because they provide support for the argument that autism rates are being substantially inflated by variables related to changes in diagnostic guidelines rather than an actual growth of incidence. If this is indeed the case, then a large number of children are being misidentified as autistic and may not be receiving the treatment that is most appropriate for their actual situation. Increased caseloads due to misdiagnoses would also place unwarranted strain on the systems and people responsible for their treatment, while family and social relationships may be altered by the perception of a condition that faces a lot of stigma. Psychological well-being could be detrimentally affected by each of these factors, leading to the formation of new issues and/or the expansion of existing conditions. Clearly, the influence of guideline changes on autism diagnosis rates can negatively impact the development of subsequently misdiagnosed children.

Evidence for the influence of guideline standards on autism diagnoses has implications for a variety of topics in developmental psychology. Another controversy, the argument over development being continuous or defined in stages, is related to this study because many guideline changes were associated with perceptions related to one side or the other. In this way it can be suggested that factors other than disease prevalence often have an impact on the formation and alteration of diagnostic standards. A similar battle has been publically contested in recent years as a result of the movement toward recognizing autism as a spectral disorder. Part of this change has involved the elimination of Asperger’s syndrome as a specific form of autism and the expansion of the base definition to include cases that would otherwise have no categorical home. These developments have expectedly drawn criticisms for artificially altering the diagnosis rate, and these complaints are supported by the historical findings in the discussed article.

Cognitive development is closely associated with autism because of the neurological nature of the condition and the observable alterations in cognitive functioning that are apparent in autistic behaviors. However, the ability to distinguish autism from other developmental routes at extremely early levels in cognitive development presents yet another controversy that has emerged from autism research and is also tied to inflated diagnosis rates. The main point of contention is the availability of consistently observable standards of cognitive development at minimal levels that can be used as reliable comparisons for the diagnosis of abnormalities like autism. The results of the article are not favorable to the concept of such standards existing, since guidelines are so often changed and yet remain significantly associated with autism rates. In these and other circumstances it is demonstrated that controversies related to the diagnosis of autism have ramifications for some of the most fundamental topics in developmental psychology. Subsequently the results of this article are widely applicable to research endeavors from across the field.

Conclusion

The results of a 2009 study by King and Bearman indicate that autism rates are significantly impacted by changes in associated diagnostic standards. These findings are directly related to several current controversies in developmental psychology, the most apparent of which is the argument over diagnoses occurring due to guideline changes alone instead of actual conditions. The perspective is supported by the results of this study as they clearly point to the existence of a significant impact on diagnosis rates being made by standard changes. Other topics in the field are associated with the research as well, including several additional controversies arising from autism research that are tied to basic concepts from major developmental theories. The results support arguments against the existence of measurably distinct standards of achievement as fundamental markers of development. This is especially true in relation to the cognitive perspective of development, which casts much doubt about the validity of autism diagnoses that are made during the earliest periods of life.

Perhaps most importantly, the article presents a serious problem for those who are impacted by autism in their own life or in that of a loved one. If guidelines are controlling diagnosis rates instead of incidence then it is highly unlikely that resources can be evenly distributed by systems designed to treat autism and conditions that may have been misdiagnosed as such. Subsequent strains on family and social relationships can interact with psychological vulnerabilities to result in devastating outcomes for autistic patients and those who are involved in their lives. More research is certainly necessary to identify and eliminate the shortcomings that have allowed the problem to continue for so long.

Reference

King, M., & Bearman, P. (2009). Diagnostic change and the increased prevalence of autism. International Journal of Epidemiology, 38(5), 1224-1234.

 

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