Changing the definition of 'autism' could end benefits for some

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by JANET ST. JAMES / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on September 4, 2013 at 8:16 AM

DALLAS — Kevin Smith is considered a savant when it comes to sports statistics. He can recite the birth dates and places, draft information, and career highlights of many professional athletes — especially basketball players.

The 24-year-old's brain works differently in other ways, too.

Diagnosed with autism as a child, Smith has received special services to help him adapt and cope his entire life.

But not long ago, his autism diagnosis changed suddenly to pervasive developmental disorder. PDD is a higher functioning label.

The change, however, may not be a good thing for Smith.

"He loses his benefits," explained Constance Smith, Kevin's mom. "He loses disability; he'll probably lose his Medicaid. The services we have helping him out, he would lose that."

Constance Smith is fighting for her son's future. She is on her last appeal to the Social Security Administration, which is now re-evaluating Kevin's benefits.

Smith is among a growing number of people who will fall outside a more limited definition of autism set forth by the American Psychiatric Association. One in 88 children are believed to have an autism spectrum disorder. A change in diagnosis can equal a change in state and federal aid.

"Once you have autism, you always have autism," said Kim Cruikshank, a behavior specialist with The ARC of Dallas, an organization that provides programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism.

"I think they're trying to decide where funding is more important, and if you do have severe autism, you're definitely more needy of funding than if you have Asperger's," Cruikshank said. "But it doesn't mean you still don't need help."

Constance Smith, in remission from cancer, worries about what will happen to her son if she isn't here. She disputes the change in his diagnosis.

"If there's such thing as worrying in your grave, then yes, I would be turning in my grave, because who's going to understand, or who's going to try to explain him another way around?"

Without assistance, Kevin Smith would have to live on the meager salary he earns with a vocational training group. Last month, his checks totaled just over $100.

Kevin Smith can recite an array of uncommon facts about athletes. He talks a good game, when it comes to his goals, too.

His mother, however, insists he cannot survive without services aimed at helping the autistic. She hopes the government listens to parents like her, who know their children best.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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