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Lisa Jo Rudy

What Will the New DSM-5 Autism Criteria Mean to You?

By June 21, 2013

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As of today -- June 21 -- the Autism at About.com website is once again offering new content to readers.  This is a somewhat momentous time in the autism world, as there are now brand new criteria from the American Psychiatric Association redefining autism.  Here are just a few of the changes:

  • Instead of five different autism spectrum disorders, there is now just one, single "Autism Spectrum Disorder" diagnosis, which will incorporate the old categories including Asperger syndrome and PDD-NOS;
  • The new Autism Spectrum will include three "functional levels," which are defined under the new criteria based on "need for support;"
  • The new Autism Spectrum will include numerous specifiers to allow clinicians to accurately diagnose individuals with specific symptoms.

Are these changes a good thing?  What will they really mean to families living with autism?  In the next weeks and month, I'll be publishing articles exploring all these and many other related  questions. To get you started, here are answers to some of your most pressing questions, from two top autism experts (including one of the creators of the new criteria, Dr. Bryan King).

Meanwhile: it is VERY IMPORTANT to know that the new DSM specifically states that anyone with a well-established autism spectrum diagnosis -- including a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome or PDD-NOS -- need not be re-evaluated.  Their diagnoses should simply be re-coded under the new Autism Spectrum.  If anyone tells you otherwise, be sure to refer them to the DSM-5.  If anyone insists that you are wrong, be sure to report the incident to the autism organization of your choice (Autism Speaks, Autism Society, etc.), most of which are collecting patient anecdotes relative to the new DSM.

Want to talk about the new DSM-5, get all the latest information, and stay abreast of new articles and blogs?  Here's how:

June 21, 2013 at 10:43 pm
(1) Bill says:

I am endowed with Asperger’s.
I used to think that autism and Asperger’s were both on the spectrum and those of us with Asperger’s just got lucky that we had enough extra intelligence or brain tissue or whatever to escape the classic autism disabilities.
What changed my mind was a study which came out in October of 2011 which looked to see if autism would affect the proportions of the face, an effect which is obvious in genetic diseases like Down’s or Williams syndromes. The study did indeed find quantifiable differences in the faces of autistic children compared to normal children, but to my surprise also found that the children with Asperger’s also had their own unique facial features, distinct from the autistic children.
How ironic, that just as we discover Asperger’s is in fact not “autism light” but unique, the DSM-5 is lumping people like me in with the classic autism group, a group not exactly famous for great intellect.
I was satisfied calling myself a person endowed with Asperger’s; I am not about to start calling myself “autistic”, a label which is starting to become synonymous with stupidity, just like the words retarded, moron, idiot and imbecile, all words which used to be perfectly acceptable terms for people with varying degrees of intellectual deficit.

Reference: Facial phenotypes in subgroups of prepubertal boys with autism spectrum disorders are correlated with clinical phenotypes

June 22, 2013 at 7:56 am
(2) autism says:

Hi, Bill! Great to hear from you. Two things in response to your commetnt:

1. The DSM-5 has zero control over the use of the term Asperger syndrome outside of medical coding — and you are not alone in your desire to use it. In fact, practically everyone I’ve spoken with (including one of the creators of the DSM-5!) has said they will continue to use it in a non-medical way. In addition, the international form of the DSM still HAS asperger syndrome, which makes things even more interesting.

2. I would disagree that “autism” and “stupid” are in any way synonymous. “With intellectual challenges” is a specifier for the new ASD, signifying that they are a subgroup of the larger ASD population. But beyond that, there are many people whose kids have ASD and intellectual challenges who feel their children are left behind — because so much of what’s written about and available for people with ASD is intended for those with average or above average IQ’s and verbal abilities.



June 22, 2013 at 4:07 pm
(3) Dena says:

Thank you so much for your clear and precise article. You answered a bunch of my questions. I shared your article on my blog – herbertdenablog.wordpress.com

Our daughter Sarah is high functioning and very verbal and I was very concerned that the DSM-5 changes were going to affect her.

June 22, 2013 at 6:01 pm
(4) autism says:

Dena — thanks so much for your kind words, and for sharing! Do stay tuned, as I have more info to share and will be writing several more articles on the topic of DSM-5 in the next few weeks.


June 27, 2013 at 11:48 am
(5) RA Jensen says:

Welcome back! You were missed

July 1, 2013 at 1:11 pm
(6) autism says:

Thanks so much for your kind words! Looking forward to getting back to work.


July 1, 2013 at 4:22 pm
(7) Stanley Jaskiewicz says:

I have heard that suggestion that a diagnosis letter be written under both the old and new versions of the DSM, to avoid any uncertainty.

July 2, 2013 at 11:39 pm
(8) davidn says:

Welcome back Lisa. Have a happy Fourth of July. I expect to see fireworks here.

July 15, 2013 at 2:04 pm
(9) Sharon says:

My oldest son had a “review” at a recent appointment at a developmental center. While they said that he was grandfathered in under the DSM-IV, I was surprised that they were “checking” his diagnosis under the new criteria. I spoke up on a couple of points saying, “just because you don’t see it in the office doesn’t mean he refrains from that particular behavior.” On his check-out papers it stated he met the criteria for the ASD diagnosis under the DSM-V definition. Hmmm….curious why we would need to do that if he was grandfathered in previously. I do have concerns for others who may face a similar situation and NOT be told that previous diagnoses stand.

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