Autism Represents a Broad Spectrum

Changes in the DSM

According to The American Psychiatric Association,

One of the most important changes in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The revised diagnosis represents a new, more accurate, and medically and scientifically useful way of diagnosing individuals with autism-related disorders.  While DSM does not outline recommended treatment and services for mental disorders, determining an accurate diagnosis is a first step for a clinician in defining a treatment plan for a patient.

The Classification Based on DSM-5 ASD Criteria

The DSM-5 criteria for ASD differ from the DSM-IV-TR criteria in several respects.

  1. First, they do not distinguish subtypes of ASD, such as autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, or the catch-all diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified; instead they are classified as a single category of ASD.  (Researchers found that these separate diagnoses were not consistently applied across different clinics and treatment centers.)
  2. Second, the DSM-5 recognizes only 2 domains of impairment: social communication and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, and all 3 items in the social communication domain are required.
  3. Third, in contrast to the 12 distinct diagnostic criteria of the DSM-IV-TR, the DSM-5 specifies 7 criteria but some of the DSM-5 criteria describe more general principles and behaviors than in the DSM-IV-TR.
  4. Fourth, the DSM-5 ASD criteria allow for the consideration of historical behaviors in addition to current behaviors, instead of primarily focusing on current behavior as with the DSM-IV-TR ASD criteria.

Autism spectrum disorder prevalence estimates should be interpreted in context, given the changes in criteria.  Future changes in evaluation and reporting practices, as well as refinements to standardized diagnostic instruments, will affect future trends in ASD prevalence estimation, and may run counter to the potential effects of the DSM-5 criteria suggested to date.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5)  provides standardized criteria to help diagnose ASD.

Broad Range of Symptoms

According to the CDC,

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. Scientists do not know yet exactly what causes these differences for most people with ASD.  However, some people with ASD have a known difference, such as a genetic condition.  There are multiple causes of ASD, although most are not yet known.

There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but they may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people.  The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged.  Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.  These symptoms may vary widely from person to person.

There is a saying among those providing services to individuals with ASD (which likely carries over to ADHD, and numerous others who are not “average” or “typical” in some area), which could not be more true…  

“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

Recommended Resources


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Autism Spectrum Disorder – Diagnostic Criteria – DSM-5 

Do you recognize these “Red Flags?” – Observable Behaviors

Any questions?…purple

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