Diagnostic Classification

The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, abbreviated as DSM-5, was released in May 2013. The DSM-5 is a diagnostic and classification tool of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The manual is used by many organizations, individuals and government agencies to diagnosis mental disorders, including autism.

The DSM-5 made some changes in how autism is defined. The DSM IV included a distinct Asperger syndrome diagnosis. In the DSM-5, there is no longer a separate diagnosis category, rather there is now one diagnosis called autism spectrum disorder. In addition, the DSM-5 also reduces social related elements of autism into social communication impairment and repetitive/restricted behaviors.

Those who worked on the DSM-5 repeated many times that no one with a current diagnosis of autism would be impacted by the changes. However, it is possible that government and other providers of treatment programs might choose to re-diagnosis under the new definition. We applaud the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), under the director of Dr. Tom Insel, who has chosen not to place so much weight on the DSM-5 diagnosis categories. According to NIMH, NIMH will not use DSM categories as the “gold standard” and will begin moving away from an exclusive focus on symptom-based categories.

The Autism Society strongly urges every government agency and service provider not to reduce or eliminate services to individuals currently getting services due to the DSM-5 changes. In addition, we encourage government agencies and service providers to fully understand and appreciate that a person who might not be defined as living with autism under the new DSM-5 criteria may still need the support and the helping hand of government.

An incredible resource that Autism Society Southern Arizona highly recommends on the changes in diagnostic classification is a video released by the Centers for Autism Related Disorders’ show Autism Live.