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New Autism Designation Promises To Be A Central Topic at Annual Conference

A recurring theme at the annual California Association for Behavior Analysis conference starting today in Burlingame likely will be the new definition of autism in the medical community.

A national psychiatric guideline for clinicians was updated in 2013. DSM-5 is the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, put out by the American Psychiatric Association in January.

In DSM-5, there is a new category in the autism spectrum — social communication disorder, or SCD. Since there are no clinical guidelines for treating SCD, autism advocates worry the new designation could be used by insurance companies to stop covering applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy) in treating autism disorder.

“It’s likely a small percentage [of SCD children among those with autism spectrum disorder], but it definitely will affect some people,” said Karen Fessel, director of the Autism Health Insurance Project. “There are no guidelines put out by insurance companies yet, so likely there will be no adjustments till October this year.”

The secondary concern for autistic children may be coverage in the regional centers, Fessel said. “[SCD] won’t be a qualifying condition in regional centers,” Fessel said. “And they have cut back in the past. Before 2009, people were getting a lot more coverage.”

Many conference attendees also will have another timely topic on their minds: State Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) scheduled an informational hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Autism & Related Disorders next week to examine the state’s oversight of Steinberg’s autism bill, SB 946, which was signed into law in 2011.

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