Whether a child is diagnosed with autism as opposed to Asperger’s syndrome or pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified may depend more on who their doctor is than anything else.

In a study of a dozen university-based clinics across the country, researchers found wide variation in the label given even when children scored similarly on diagnostic tests.

The study published online Monday in the Archives of General Psychiatry looked at more than 2,100 kids ages 4 to 18 with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.

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So distinct were the differences that at one location, all children received a diagnosis of autism. At two other locations over 40 percent of children were given a PDD-NOS label. Meanwhile, across all 12 sites studied, the proportion of kids diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome varied from zero to about 21 percent.

Regional variations could be at play, according to the study authors. “For example, in some regions, children with diagnoses of autistic disorder receive different services than do children with other ASD diagnoses; elsewhere, autistic disorder diagnoses may be avoided as more stigmatizing than diagnoses of PDD-NOS or Asperger syndrome,” they write.

Regardless of the reason behind the varying diagnoses, the researchers said their findings support a move toward a more general label for autism and greater emphasis placed on a particular child’s strengths and weaknesses.

That’s likely to be a reality soon. It’s expected that Asperger’s syndrome and PDD-NOS will be folded into an overarching diagnosis of “autism spectrum disorders” in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is slated to be released in May 2013.