On Feb. 17, Dr. Drew had the mother and stepfather of 17-year old Matthew Morgan on his show. Morgan was sentenced to 15 years in prison for arson and the murder of his 14-month-old half-brother. Morgan confessed to starting a fire in the family home, causing it to go up in flames, and his baby brother was killed.
Because Morgan was diagnosed with autism, Dr. Drew and his guests questioned the decision of the parents to leave Morgan alone with his baby brother. A severely autistic teen should not be babysitting. The answers that the parents gave threw the panel, but the writer of this column will attempt to decipher what the parents were trying to convey on the show. They thought Matthew Morgan was able to watch a baby because of dueling clinicians.
The parents explained that Morgan was diagnosed with autism when DSM-IV was still in effect. The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is a bible of psychiatric diagnoses, but it gets updated now and again. Currently. mental health professionals diagnose psychiatric conditions, such as autism, by using DSM-V. This updated DSM came into effect in 2013. Under the DSM-V criteria, Matthew Morgan no longer qualifies for the diagnosis of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).
A guest on the panel challenged the parents and insisted that Morgan qualified for regional support (a caregiver), because he was diagnosed with autism. In defense of the parents, it clearly states on California’s Dept. of Developmental Services website that it is at the discretion of the regional centers to decide who is developmentally disabled and who qualifies for supports (two separate things). It point blank states: “Eligibility is established through diagnosis and assessment performed by regional centers.”
According to Morgan’s parents, they did take him to be evaluated at a regional center. Whoever evaluated him at the center determined he is not autistic by current medical standards. He was determined to have “autistic tendencies,” but he was not impaired enough to qualify for a diagnosis of ASD,
Even if the regional center had determined that Morgan is autistic, that doesn’t mean he would have been able to access services. They have a “substantial disability” requirement as follows:
(l) (1) “Substantial disability” means the existence of significant functional limitations in three or more of the following areas of major life activity, as determined by a regional center, and as appropriate to the age of the person:
(B) Receptive and expressive language.
(F) Capacity for independent living.
(G) Economic self-sufficiency.
That means if Morgan were diagnosed autistic by the center, but they determined he was only disabled by two of the above listed problems, he would not have qualified for services.
This was a case of dueling clinicians wading through the grey areas of someone caught between two DSMs. Morgan was allowed to babysit, because the parents were told by a clinician at a regional center that he was a non-autistic kid. This contradicted the DSM-IV diagnosis that another clinician used to say Morgan was autistic and needed supports from the regional center. Who wouldn’t be confused by dueling clinicians firing at each other with old and new diagnostic standards?