DSM-5 – Changes to Diagnosing Autism

The American Psychiatric Association is in the process of finalizing its latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)—which will be known as DSM-5. The goal of developing DSM-5, according to the APA, is to produce an DSM-5 Manual of Mental Disordersevidence-based manual that is useful to clinicians in helping them accurately and consistently diagnose certain disorders, including autism.

Although DSM-5 will not be released until May, you may have heard about some of the revisions being made to the manual as it has already faced some attention, both positive and negative. The revisions to DSM-5 may have a significant impact on how the diagnosis of autism is made, and what, moving forward, is considered part of the autism spectrum. As I have gathered, some of the primary changes will include:

  • Instead of having the separate diagnoses of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and PDD-NOS, they will now all fall under the larger umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
  • Under the new criteria, people with ASD must show symptoms from early childhood, even if those symptoms are not recognized until later. This change is supposed to encourage earlier diagnosis of ASD but also allow for the diagnosis of people whose symptoms may not be fully recognized until later (such as school-aged).
  • Previously, symptoms were divided into three categories—deficits in social interaction, deficits in communication, and repetitive and restricted behaviors and interests. In DSM-5, they combined the first two categories, so there are now only two—communication/social deficits, and restricted, repetitive behaviors and interests. And you have to have a certain specified amount of symptoms in those categories to be diagnosed with autism. The reason behind combining those categories is because symptoms in those categories almost always appear together.

The changes have been met with a bit of controversy, some of it surrounding the concern of some those with a diagnosis of Asperger’s or PDD-NOS not being able to retain an ASD diagnosis under the new guidelines. Or, for others, not having a classification beyond the umbrella ASD. The APA notes, however, that ‘the revised diagnosis represents a new, more accurate, and medically and scientifically useful way of diagnosing individuals with autism-related disorders.’

To learn more about DSM-5, click here.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Leave a Reply