Proposed DSM5 autism diagnostic criteria made public

28 Jan

Below is the proposed DSM5 revision to the diagnostic criteria for autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Must meet criteria A, B, C, and D:

A. Persistent deficits in social communication and social
interaction across contexts, not accounted for by general
developmental delays, and manifest by all 3 of the following:

1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity; ranging from abnormal
social approach and failure of normal back and forth conversation
through reduced sharing of interests, emotions, and affect and
response to total lack of initiation of social interaction,

2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social
interaction; ranging from poorly integrated- verbal and nonverbal
communication, through abnormalities in eye contact and body-language,
or deficits in understanding and use of nonverbal communication, to
total lack of facial expression or gestures.

3. Deficits in developing and maintaining relationships,
appropriate to developmental level (beyond those with caregivers);
ranging from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit different social
contexts through difficulties in sharing imaginative play and in
making friends to an apparent absence of interest in people

B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or
activities as manifested by at least two of the following:

1. Stereotyped or repetitive speech, motor movements, or use of
objects; (such as simple motor stereotypies, echolalia, repetitive use
of objects, or idiosyncratic phrases).

2. Excessive adherence to routines, ritualized patterns of verbal
or nonverbal behavior, or excessive resistance to change; (such as
motoric rituals, insistence on same route or food, repetitive
questioning or extreme distress at small changes).

3. Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in
intensity or focus; (such as strong attachment to or preoccupation
with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative

4. Hyper-or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest
in sensory aspects of environment; (such as apparent indifference to
pain/heat/cold, adverse response to specific sounds or textures,
excessive smelling or touching of objects, fascination with lights or
spinning objects).

C. Symptoms must be present in early childhood (but may not become
fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities)

D. Symptoms together limit and impair everyday functioning.

They have also added a section discussing the rationale for the revision:

New name for category, autism spectrum disorder, which includes autistic disorder (autism), Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.

* Differentiation of autism spectrum disorder from typical development and other “nonspectrum” disorders is done reliably and with validity; while distinctions among disorders have been found to be inconsistent over time, variable across sites and often associated with severity, language level or intelligence rather than features of the disorder.
* Because autism is defined by a common set of behaviors, it is best represented as a single diagnostic category that is adapted to the individual’s clinical presentation by inclusion of clinical specifiers (e.g., severity, verbal abilities and others) and associated features (e.g., known genetic disorders, epilepsy, intellectual disability and others.) A single spectrum disorder is a better reflection of the state of knowledge about pathology and clinical presentation; previously, the criteria were equivalent to trying to “cleave meatloaf at the joints”.

Three domains become two:

1) Social/communication deficits

2) Fixated interests and repetitive behaviors

* Deficits in communication and social behaviors are inseparable and more accurately considered as a single set of symptoms with contextual and environmental specificities
* Delays in language are not unique nor universal in ASD and are more accurately considered as a factor that influences the clinical symptoms of ASD, rather than defining the ASD diagnosis
* Requiring both criteria to be completely fulfilled improves specificity of diagnosis without impairing sensitivity
* Providing examples for subdomains for a range of chronological ages and language levels increases sensitivity across severity levels from mild to more severe, while maintaining specificity with just two domains
* Decision based on literature review, expert consultations, and workgroup discussions; confirmed by the results of secondary analyses of data from CPEA and STAART, University of Michigan, Simons Simplex Collection databases

Several social/communication criteria were merged and streamlined to clarify diagnostic requirements.

* In DSM-IV, multiple criteria assess same symptom and therefore carry excessive weight in making diagnosis
* Merging social and communication domains requires new approach to criteria
* Secondary data analyses were conducted on social/communication symptoms to determine most sensitive and specific clusters of symptoms and criteria descriptions for a range of ages and language levels

Requiring two symptom manifestations for repetitive behavior and fixated interests improves specificity of the criterion without significant decrements in sensitivity. The necessity for multiple sources of information including skilled clinical observation and reports from parents/caregivers/teachers is highlighted by the need to meet a higher proportion of criteria.

The presence, via clinical observation and caregiver report, of a history of fixated interests, routines or rituals and repetitive behaviors considerably increases the stability of autism spectrum diagnoses over time and the differentiation between ASD and other disorders.

Reorganization of subdomains increases clarity and continues to provide adequate sensitivity while improving specificity through provision of examples from different age ranges and language levels.

Unusual sensory behaviors are explicitly included within a sudomain of stereotyped motor and verbal behaviors, expanding the specfication of different behaviors that can be coded within this domain, with examples particularly relevant for younger children

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder and must be present from infancy or early childhood, but may not be detected until later because of minimal social demands and support from parents or caregivers in early years.

And a “severity” scale:

Severity Level for ASD

Level 3 ‘Requiring very substantial support’

Social Communication
Severe deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills cause severe impairments in functioning; very limited initiation of social interactions and minimal response to social overtures from others.

Restricted interests & repetitive behaviors
Preoccupations, fixated rituals and/or repetitive behaviors markedly interfere with functioning in all spheres. Marked distress when rituals or routines are interrupted; very difficult to redirect from fixated interest or returns to it quickly.

Level 2 ‘Requiring substantial support’

Social Communication
Marked deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills; social impairments apparent even with supports in place; limited initiation of social interactions and reduced or abnormal response to social overtures from others.

Restricted interests & repetitive behaviors
RRBs and/or preoccupations or fixated interests appear frequently enough to be obvious to the casual observer and interfere with functioning in a variety of contexts. Distress or frustration is apparent when RRB’s are interrupted; difficult to redirect from fixated interest.

Level 1 ‘Requiring support’

Social Communication
Without supports in place, deficits in social communication cause noticeable impairments. Has difficulty initiating social interactions and demonstrates clear examples of atypical or unsuccessful responses to social overtures of others. May appear to have decreased interest in social interactions.

Restricted interests & repetitive behaviors
Rituals and repetitive behaviors (RRB’s) cause significant interference with functioning in one or more contexts. Resists attempts by others to interrupt RRB’s or to be redirected from fixated interest.


17 Responses to “Proposed DSM5 autism diagnostic criteria made public”

  1. Joeymom January 28, 2011 at 02:20 #

    And if one of these items is not present, they are calling it… ?

  2. brian January 28, 2011 at 04:41 #

    If diagnosis of new cases of ASD decreases following the introduction of DSM5, will Blaxill and Olmsted say that it is because there has been a change in exposure to thimerosal as thimerosal-containing vaccines were removed from the pediatric vaccine schedule, or will they insist that it is simply due to changing diagnostic criteria?

    • Sullivan January 28, 2011 at 04:58 #


      they are obviously timing the DSM5 in order to discredit Andrew Wakefield..

  3. stanley seigler January 28, 2011 at 05:06 #

    [brian say] …Blaxill and Olmsted say that it is because there has been a change in exposure to thimerosal as thimerosal-containing vaccines were removed from the pediatric vaccine schedule…

    why do all discussions relate to thimerosal-containing vaccines and wakefield…time to move on…

    stanley seigler

  4. Neuroskeptic January 28, 2011 at 09:42 #

    The new criteria are not terrible, but I’m far from convinced that they are an improvement. It seems like they’re just making changes for the sake of changes.

    Lorna Wing, Gould and Gillberg have an article out recently discussing the changes: It’s a good read.

  5. livsparents January 29, 2011 at 00:22 #

    “And if one of these items is not present, they are calling it… ?”

    Late for dinner at the funding table…

  6. livsparents January 29, 2011 at 00:31 #

    Am I right? That IF a person’s OCD is sufficiently debilitating to their social ‘abilities'(say agoraphobia for instance), that one could make the argument for an ASD diagnosis? Just playing Devil’s psychiatrist here…

  7. RAJ January 29, 2011 at 18:43 #

    Livspaents wrote:
    ‘Am I right? That IF a person’s OCD is sufficiently debilitating to their social ‘abilities’(say agoraphobia for instance), that one could make the argument for an ASD diagnosis? Just playing Devil’s psychiatrist here…’

    At the rate they are going DSM-VI will be reduced to a single paragraph.

    ‘Anyone deemed by psychiatry as not meeting their definition of ‘normality’ has an Autism Spectrum Disorder’

  8. David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. January 30, 2011 at 00:32 #

    “At the rate they are going DSM-VI will be reduced to a single paragraph.

    ‘Anyone deemed by psychiatry as not meeting their definition of ‘normality’ has an Autism Spectrum Disorder’”

    Slippery slope fallacy.

    Grow an IQ, RAJ. Grow an IQ.

  9. Jerry Rice January 30, 2011 at 04:06 #

    28 Jan 2011 Author: Sullivan
    Comments: 11

    Proposed DSM5 just a money making machine and always has been in my opinion.

  10. Gaye Dalton January 31, 2011 at 02:19 #

    The new criteria are fine…apart from the fact that they do not take into account 99.9% of the factors involved in, or influencing autism throughout the life of the individual.

    Autistics are not, unfortunately, inanimate objects, and Autism is not a condition that relates exclusively to a failure to maintain a “normal” appearance, but you wouldn’t guess that from reading the proposed criteria.

    …and can anyone enlighten me as to what terrible fate would befall if the criteria were to encourage the diagnostician to cross the line and attempt to consult the autistic about his internal state rather than restricting his diagnosis to his own observations (of a person who speaks an individual and alien non-verbal language no less) and a third party account from a “caregiver” (would this include spouses? Lovers? Butlers?) of the superficial appearance maintained by the autistic when under observation and thus considerable stress.

    Wing, Gould and Gillberg touch on some of the other problems that immediately occurred to me, such as the absence of one iota of allowance for definitively observed gender distinctions in presentation.

    The criteria also make no allowance for the fact that, not only are autistics extremelly unlikely to vanish into thin air on the eve of their 18 birthdays and adulthood, but also, but the time they get their they DO learn to mimic normality in short, stressful bursts to help them through the day.

    Applied strictly, the criteria say that AS SOON as an individual can mimic normality at all they are no longer autistic.

  11. stanley seigler January 31, 2011 at 02:38 #

    not sure just what the ramifications are but FYI…CA-USA changed criteria of disability and eliminated support for 400/yr on the spectrum…

    stanley seigler

  12. Jen February 2, 2011 at 15:51 #

    Thank goodness my kids are already diagnosed and not waiting to go through the process – and we use ICD-10, and not DSMIV (or V). simply because its not getting simpler, its getting more complicated.

    I would like to know what Brian Deer thinks of these changing and new criteria – since he’s a self-made expert and all.

  13. Laurentius Rex February 2, 2011 at 22:02 #

    Ooh I am pissing myself (Not) with fear.

    Well maybe I am pissing myself with laughter at all of these Yesterday’s fools.

    The divorce from reality will eventually be so much that this “fou cult” of psychiatry will eat itself.

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