The role of audiologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, speech pathologists and other allied health professionals engaged in providing services to autistic children could be under threat following changes to the diagnostic criteria for the condition.
Following the release of the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used to guide psychiatrists worldwide, a new test could see many children, who might previously have been diagnosed with autism, now classified under a new diagnostic category known as "Social Communication Disorder".
Under current arrangements the new definition would not qualify children for support under a federal government package introduced in 2008.
autism-specific service provider Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) has conducted research that revealed DSM-5’s implications for autistic children and their professional carers.
Aspect's study, the first of its kind to be done in Australia, compared how 132 Australian children diagnosed with autism would have fared had they been assessed under the DSM-5 definitions.
The results showed 23.5 per cent failed to meet the new criteria, which will require children to exhibit at least five out of a possible seven symptoms, instead of three as at present.
Aspect believes the findings could impact funding, which, since 2008, has been available to the tune of around $12,000 for families, over at least two years, to help provide speech therapy and other treatments for children diagnosed before the age of six.
Other elements of the scheme allow autistic children to receive Medicare-funded treatment from audiologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, speech pathologists and others, provided a treatment plan has been drawn up by the time the child is 13.
A number of independent studies conducted in the US have found fewer children would qualify for an autism diagnosis under the new criteria, in contrast to field work done by the American Psychiatric Association which predicted no such outcome.
It is understood the new definitions are likely to come into effect internationally shortly after the DSM-5 is published in May 2013.