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The Helena Arkansas Daily World - Helena, AR
  • Dr. Murray Feingold: Don’t be alarmed by the numbers

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  • It’s not uncommon to read a headline in your local newspaper about a new report exclaiming the presence of an increase or decrease in the number of people affected by a certain disease. If there is a significant increase, these reports can cause people to be concerned and anxious.
    But before you consider this information to be factual and reliable, it’s important to determine how these figures were ascertained.
    For example, the reason for the increase in the number of people being diagnosed with a certain malady may not be because more people actually have the disease, but due to the use of new diagnostic tests such as MRIs or blood studies, allowing us to now be able to make the diagnosis. It’s not due to some type of epidemic causing the increase.
    The most recent data concerning the number of children with autism is an excellent example of why it is important to determine how such numbers are obtained. A recent study showed that there is going to be a 31 percent decrease in the number of children being diagnosed with autism. Sounds like good news, but unfortunately, there is a story behind the story.
    In May 2013, a revision of the diagnostic criteria for autism was made in the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As a result of this revision, certain diagnostic subgroups of the autism spectrum disorders, such as Asperger disorder, were eliminated. Thus, it gives the incorrect impression that fewer children are being diagnosed with autism.
    Although these diagnoses were eliminated, the children are still there and still have symptoms. Unfortunately, because their diagnosis was eliminated, many of them now fail to qualify for the support they need, such as social service and medical benefits.
    So, it’s important to be aware of how new numbers are determined that declare an increase or decrease of various illnesses.
    And, it is also essential that those who change the criteria of for the diagnosis of these conditions, are aware of the negative impact that such changes may have on providing the much-needed support that these children need and require.
    Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.
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