Using the Right ICD Code for Autism

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects millions worldwide, making it one of the most common developmental disorders. Although there is no known cure for ASD, early detection and intervention can significantly improve outcomes for people who have it. This is where accurate medical coding comes into play.

Using the correct International Classification of Diseases (ICD) code for autism can help ensure that individuals with this condition receive the appropriate care and that healthcare providers are compensated for their efforts.

In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of CPT and ICD codes, as well as how using the appropriate ICD codes for autism can impact diagnosis, treatment, and reimbursement.

What Is the ICD-10-CM Index?

The International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-10-CM) is a resource that assists healthcare professionals in determining the correct diagnostic code for a patient’s condition. It serves as a reference guide, allowing users to quickly search for and find the corresponding code for a specific term or keyword.

This tool is handy for people unfamiliar with the entire list of ICD-10-CM codes. Instead of memorizing hundreds of codes, healthcare professionals can quickly find the corresponding code by searching for a keyword or phrase that describes the patient’s symptoms or condition.

The ICD-10-CM index is organized alphabetically, making it simple to navigate. It includes terms commonly used in medical practice and a list of corresponding codes for each term. For example, if a healthcare provider is looking for a code related to “asthma,” they can simply look up “asthma” in the index and find a list of codes related to that condition.

Not only is the ICD-10-CM index a valuable resource for healthcare professionals, but it is also a vital component of medical billing and coding. The index makes it easier to select the correct code, which is essential for ensuring that healthcare providers are reimbursed appropriately for their services.

Understanding How Autism Is Classified in the ICD-10-CM Index

The ICD-10-CM, as previously stated, is a diagnostic tool used by healthcare providers and coders to classify and code medical conditions. It includes autism spectrum disorder (ASD) specific codes that allow for a more accurate diagnosis and treatment.

To classify individuals with ASD, medical professionals and coders can refer to the ICD-10-CM index, which contains a comprehensive list of codes. The index is broken down into subcategories, such as intellectual disabilities, pervasive developmental disorders, and emotional and behavioral disorders that first appear in childhood or adolescence. Within each section, the codes specify additional information about the patient’s condition.

The ICD-10-CM code for autism spectrum disorder, for example, is F84.0. It’s a “billable code,” which means it’s detailed enough to be used to make a medical diagnosis. It falls under the section for mental and behavioral disorders (codes F00 to F99), the subsection of pervasive and specific developmental disorders (F80 to F89), and the smaller subsection of pervasive developmental disorders (F84).

Moreover, the ICD defines a pervasive developmental disorder as “severe distortions in the development of many fundamental psychological functions that are abnormal at any stage of development.” F84 is a non-billable code, so it cannot be entered into any system as a diagnosis; however, all codes that fall under it (F84.0 to F84.9) can be.

Other codes within the category of pervasive developmental disorders include F84.1 for atypical autism, F84.5 for Asperger’s syndrome, and F84.9 for pervasive developmental disorders not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Each of these codes provides additional specificity regarding the individual’s symptoms and diagnosis, which is essential for delivering the most effective treatment and care.

Choosing the Right Codes for ASD-Related Services

As a healthcare provider, accurately coding services related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is critical for ensuring proper reimbursement and regulation compliance. However, navigating the complex medical coding system can be difficult, especially regarding ASD-related services.

The first step is to familiarize yourself with the ICD-10-CM classification system and how it applies to people diagnosed with ASD. This is why we spent some time laying out exactly where the autism ICD-10 code should sit. In some cases, it is also necessary to learn more about ICD-10 codes for mental health, as it is known that certain mental health disorders can coexist with ASD.

When coding for ASD-related services, selecting the most specific code possible is critical to reflect the nature of the services provided accurately. For example, when providing services to people with Asperger’s syndrome, the F84.5 code should be used. Similarly, when providing services to people with PDD-NOS, it is critical to use the F84.9 code.

In addition to choosing the correct code for the specific ASD diagnosis, it is critical to consider any co-occurring conditions that may impact the services provided. If an individual with ASD also has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), additional codes may be required to reflect this co-occurring condition.

Furthermore, the type of service provided is an additional factor to consider when assigning codes to services related to ASD. For example, speech and occupational therapy services may be coded differently for individuals with ASD. Understanding the nuances of coding for each service type is crucial for ensuring accurate reimbursement and regulatory compliance.

ICD Codes for Autism

The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder in the United States is estimated at 1 in every 54 children. Research has also established that people with ASD have a higher prevalence of anxiety disorders than the general population, with estimates ranging from 11% to 84%. As a result, it is essential for medical professionals and insurance companies to be familiar with the relevant ICD codes for anxiety to document and bill for services related to ASD properly.

To give you a more in-depth understanding of ASD-related disorders, here are the most common ICD codes for autism:

F84.0: Childhood Autism

Childhood autism, also known as classic autism or autistic disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior in children under the age of three.

Children with autism may struggle to make eye contact, respond to their names, and participate in social interactions. They may also have delayed language development or lack verbal communication. Repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping or toy lining are common, as is resistance to changes in routine or environment.

Other symptoms of childhood autism include:

Difficulty understanding social cues and emotions
Lack of interest in playing with other children
Obsessive interests in specific topics or objects
Sensory sensitivities or aversions, such as to loud noises or certain textures
Difficulty with coordination or fine motor skills

F84.1: Atypical Autism

This type of PDD-NOS differs from childhood autism in onset age or failure to meet all three diagnostic criteria. The symptoms of F84.1 are similar to those of F84.0, but they are less severe and may not meet all of the requirements for F84.0. Typical symptoms include:

Difficulty with nonverbal communication, such as making eye contact or understanding facial expressions
Repetitive movements or behaviors, such as rocking, spinning, or flapping their hands
Difficulty processing sensory information, such as sounds, textures, or smells
Struggle to interact with others and form meaningful relationships
Delays in motor, cognitive, or language development

F84.2: Rett Syndrome

A condition, so far only found in girls, in which normal early development is followed by partial or complete loss of speech, locomotion, and hand use skills, as well as a slowing of head growth, usually between the ages of seven and 24 months. This disorder is co-diagnosed with speech therapy disorders in some cases, so knowledge of ICD codes for speech therapy may be required.

Other symptoms include:

Irregular breathing patterns, such as hyperventilation, breath-holding, or apnea
Abnormal eye movements, such as rapid blinking or gaze avoidance
Difficulty walking or an unsteady gait
Increased risk of developing scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.
F84.3: Other Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
A type of pervasive developmental disorder characterized by a period of entirely normal development preceding the onset of the disease, followed by a definite loss of previously acquired skills in several growth areas over a few months. Typically, this is accompanied by other symptoms such as:

General loss of interest in the environment
Stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms
Autistic-like social interaction and communication abnormalities
Some cases may be linked to encephalopathy (any disease of the brain that alters brain function or structure)

F84.4: Overactive Disorder Associated With Mental Retardation and Stereotyped Movements

A disorder that isn’t well-defined and whose validity as a diagnosis is uncertain. The category is intended to include children with severe mental retardation (IQ less than 35) who have serious problems with hyperactivity, attention, and stereotypical behavior. They usually don’t benefit from stimulant drugs, unlike people with an IQ in the normal range, and may have a severe dysphoric reaction (sometimes with psychomotor retardation) when given them.

During adolescence, overactivity is usually replaced by under-activity (a pattern that is not usual in hyperkinetic children with normal intelligence). This syndrome is also often linked to specific or global developmental delays. No one knows how much the behavior pattern is caused by a low IQ or damage to the brain’s structure.

F84.5: Asperger Syndrome

A disorder with unclear diagnostic validity marked by the same kinds of problems with social interaction as autism and a limited, stereotypical, and repetitive set of interests and activities. It is different from autism mostly because there isn’t a general delay or slowing down in language or cognitive development. People with this disorder are often very clumsy. There is a high chance that the problems will still be there in adolescence and as an adult. There are times when young adults have psychotic episodes.

Wrap Up

If people with autism are going to get the help they need, their diagnoses must be recorded using the correct ICD code. Accurately diagnosing a patient is vital for facilitating timely access to care and reducing unnecessary suffering.

Understanding the various ICD-10 autism codes and codes for other diseases, such as the ICD codes for ADHD, enables healthcare professionals to provide better patient care. With the proper diagnosis and treatment, people living with autism can live meaningful lives and make significant contributions to society.

Further Reading:

  • The Right Codes for ASD-Related Services
  • ICD-10-CM Coding Guide for Autism