We will see what becomes of these concerns voiced by such learned societies.
With autism spectrum conditions specifically in mind, I have previously covered a few topics of potential interest to DSM-5 on this blog. There have for example, been subtle clues to how autism will pan out in the new DSM revision for quite a few years now as evidenced by things like changes to the algorithm used as part of ADOS and papers looking at historical recall with regards to the cut-off ages for presentation of the autism.
Another clue to the changes to autism diagnosis came quite recently following the publication of a paper by Catherine Lord and colleagues* on the lack of consensus about best-estimate diagnostic sub-groups labels applied across different trained groups.
The paper by Lord (who has fairly recently moved jobs) et al has received quite a lot of press, along the lines of 'Autism or Asperger's? It might depend on your doctor' reiterating what has perhaps been known about for many years: physicians are artists and brush stokes vary from physician to physician. The latest paper looked at just over 2100 children diagnosed with autism via ADI-R and/or ADOS spread across 12 participating sites. Based on various pieces of information covering various autism- and cognitive-related measures, best-estimate diagnostic labels were compared across the sites and lo and behold, the artists, sorry physicians, were not in total agreement about labels. So a child's final diagnostic label is, to a degree, dependent on who synthesised the pertinent material and gave the diagnosis.
I note that quite a few 'I told you so' soundbites have followed this study. I pass no comment on these except for the fact that DSM-IV, and its modifications, has been with us for 17 years so far and perhaps therefore the question of why it has taken so long to do a study like this should be asked. Did no-one ever think that this should have been part of the field testing for DSM-IV?
I digress. The study has been used as evidence for the assignment of a dimensional description to the triad (sorry dyad) of symptoms as per the DSM-5 recommendations. There is some growing support for the options laid out in DSM-5 from other sources; so imaging studies, more imaging studies and co-morbidity research. Despite this, the research is not all one-way; not at all. I don't think this will be the last piece of research to be published pertinent to the important diagnostic changes put forward in DSM-5.
Finally, I do think we should try and keep in mind two important things: (i) autism or whatever variant detailed is not just a label; it is not just a collection of symptoms gathered under a few sentences of descriptions, it is real life and as complicated as 'not autism', and (ii) changes to those labels need to be done for the right reasons; so if it means that people will better receive the help, support, services, etc they need/want under DSM-5, targeted to that persons strengths and weaknesses, so be it. If it however means that it is just easier to categorise people for a research study or investigation based on where they appear on the autism spectrum, I would perhaps suggest that we should be investing more in suitable research tools for this purpose.
Speaking of physicians as artists, have a read through this recent article** (click the 'Article as PDF' option in the right sidebar to download it, not forgetting to scan for viruses first).
* Lord C. et al. A multisite study of the clinical diagnosis of different autism spectrum disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry. November 2011.
** Gupta VB. & Lauffer D. Should the diagnosis of autism be made only on the basis of a standardized test? Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. November 2011