Suspiciously, between 40 and 60 percent of all psychiatric patients are diagnosed with a personality disorder, hinting that symptoms of at least some of these “disorders” resemble typical behavior too closely. In addition, psychiatrists often diagnose the same patient with more than one ailment, suggesting significant overlap. For example, people with both histrionic and narcissistic personality disorders insist on being the center of attention, take advantage of their families and friends, and have trouble reading others’ emotions.
The upshot: DSM-5’s editors nixed histrionic personality disorder. Paranoid, schizoid and dependent personality disorders are also gone. Your personality can still, however, be narcissistic, antisocial, avoidant, borderline, obsessive-compulsive or “schizotypal.” —F.J.
Good-bye to Asperger’s?
Certain behavioral quirks have long been thought to distinguish Asperger’s syndrome from other autistic disorders. “Aspies,” as people with this affliction sometimes call themselves, tend to develop intense fascination with very specific objects or facts—the wheels of toy cars or the names of constellations—in the absence of a general interest in, say, automotive mechanics or astronomy. Now the diagnosis will disappear, and Aspies may find an important part of their identity stripped away.
Currently Asperger’s is one of five so-called pervasive developmental disorders, along with autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and the lesser-known Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD). All these problems are characterized by deficits in communication and social skills as well as by repetitive behaviors. Indeed, the APA has decided that four of the five disorders—autistic disorder, Asperger’s, CDD and PDD-NOS—are so similar that they should all be placed into a new category called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Psychiatrists using the new DSM will give anyone on the spectrum a diagnosis of ASD, along with a rating of illness severity.
Children whom psychiatrists would previously have diagnosed with CDD fall at the more severe end of the spectrum. They typically experience an almost complete deterioration of social and communication skills starting sometime between the ages of two and 10. Asperger’s patients will land on the milder end. They generally do not show language delays and, in fact, often display excellent verbal skills. Rett syndrome, in which known genetic mutations stunt physical growth, along with language and social skills, is gone from the manual entirely. Ironically, the APA is eliminating it because a genetic test for the condition makes diagnosis so precise and straightforward. For now the DSM prefers to limit itself to a blunter diagnostic measure: behavior.
Statistical studies published in 2011 and 2012 confirm that the DSM-5 criteria for autism are more accurate than those penned in the DSM-IV. The revised guidelines practically guarantee that anyone told they have the disorder really has it. To qualify as autistic by the new manual, a patient must meet five of seven symptoms—a higher bar than the six-of-12-symptom cutoff in the DSM-IV.
Some psychiatrists say the new rules are too strict: they worry some high-functioning autistic people, such those now diagnosed with Asperger’s, may not meet the criteria and may miss out on educational and medical services as a result. On the other hand, if people with milder autismlike symptoms do make it onto the spectrum, the lack of an Asperger’s label could benefit them. States such as California and Texas now provide educational and social services to people with autism that they deny to those with Asperger’s. Some parents argue, though, that limited resources should go to kids with more severe symptoms before anyone else. —F.J.