Diagnostic Classifications

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, most recently released as the DSM-5 in 2013, is used by many organizations, individuals and government to diagnosis psychiatric disorders such as autism.

The DSM-5 redefined autism. Its predecessor, the DSM-IV-TR, included five Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs): Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, Rett’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).

In the DSM-5, Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and PDD-NOS are replaced by the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Additionally, the DSM-5 also reduces social-related elements of autism into social communication impairment and repetitive/restricted behaviors, though the labels of Asperger’s and PDD-NOS are still in common use.

Those who worked on the DSM-5 repeated many times that no one who already had a diagnosis of autism will be impacted by these changes. However, it is possible that the government and other program providers might choose to re-diagnose their beneficiaries under the new definition to determine whether they are still considered to be living with autism for purposes of receiving services.

We applaud the National Institute of Mental Health and its director Dr. Tom Insel, who has chosen not to place so much weight on the DSM-5 diagnosis categories. 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 unit and service provider not to reduce or eliminate services to people who were already getting services. In addition, we encourage them to fully understand and appreciate that a person who might not be defined as living with autism under the new DSM-5 criteria might still need a helping hand.