Loose definitions of autism produce bigger and more newsworthy statistics, which in turn can attract more children into existing programs and attract more money from the government, foundations and other sources to support those programs.
Many parents have told me that they have been urged to let their children be labeled autistic, or on the autistic spectrum, in order to get money for speech therapy or other conditions from grants that are available to deal with autism.
Professor Camarata points out that the "less precise 'autism spectrum'" label "has had the unintended consequence of diluting resources, research and services to those children and families who most need the support" -- that is, families whose children suffer from genuine autism.
Loose definitions also promote the illusion of "cures" for autism, since most late-talking children who were never autistic in the first place "will be miraculously 'cured' because most late talkers who are otherwise unimpaired learn to talk with little or no treatment," according to Professor Camarata.
Parents whose children are late in talking or have other troubling problems would do well to seek diagnoses from the most highly qualified professionals they can find -- but not rely on the facile checklists being promoted in the current crusade for universal diagnosis of infants and toddlers for autism, without facing the question whether or not there are enough people qualified to make such diagnoses.