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What is Autism?

Autism New Jersey Stated These Recent Changes to the Diagnostic Criteria

In May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) revised the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which includes changes to its definition of autism. The previous version of the DSM listed Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS) as distinct diagnoses under the broader category of Pervasive Developmental Disorders. DSM-5 includes these separate diagnoses under a single umbrella term, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and makes changes to the way ASD is diagnosed.

The DSM-5 advises that individuals with a well-established DSM-IV diagnosis of autistic disorder, Asperger's disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified should be given the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

The DSM-5 requires an individual to meet a specific number of criteria from two major categories. To be diagnosed with ASD, a person must have difficulty with social communication and interaction, and display restricted repetitive behaviors, interests and activities. The diagnostician will rank the characteristics based on level of severity and describe the support the individual needs.

Autism Spectrum Diagnosis according to DSM-5:

  • Persistent Deficits in Social Communication / Interaction Across Multiple Contexts, Either Currently or by History (all 3 criteria met)

    1. Problems initiating & reciprocating social or emotional interaction
    2. Severe problems maintaining relationships
    3. Nonverbal communication problems

  • Restricted, Repetitive Patterns of Behaviors, Interests, or Activities, Either Currently or By History (2 of 4 criteria met)
  1. Stereotyped / repetitive speech, motor movements / use of objects
  2. Excessive adherence to routines, ritualized patters of verbal / nonverbal behavior / excessive resistance to change
  3. Highly restricted interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus
  4. Hyper / hypo reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment
  • Symptoms Must Be Present In The Early Developmental Period

  • Symptoms Cause Clinically Significant Impairment In Social, Occupational, or Other Important Areas of Functioning

  • Severity Levels are Measured – Based on Level of Support Needed
  1. Level 1 - requiring support
  2. Level 2 - requiring substantial support
  3. Level 3 - requiring very substantial support
  • Asperger’s is diagnosed separately

  • New Diagnostic Category – Social Communication Disorder (SCD)
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