Autism Aware
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How is Autism diagnosed

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This section looks at how autism is diagnosed and what levels of support are needed using the DSM 5. It explains the Dyad of impairments which is the diagnostic criteria identified in the DSM 5 to diagnose autism.


How is autism diagnosed.

Autism is a serious neuro-developmental disorder with variable severity that impairs a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It also includes restricted repetitive patterns of thought and  behaviour.

Now look at some of the things we know about autism:

  • Autism is a life enduring condition.
  • There is no “cure” for autism.
  • Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the world. (WHO..2014)

Early and ongoing intervention is vital in the development of a child with autism.

The DSM 5 is the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that is used by clinicians to diagnose autism.

Published in 2013 the primary diagnostic criteria shifted from a Triad of 3 impairments to a Dyad of 2  impairments to diagnose autism.

The Dyad of Impairments as identified in the DSM 5 are:

  • Impairments in Social Communication and Interaction
  • Restrictive Repetitive Patterns of Behaviours Activities & Interests

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is the diagnostic manual for numerous diagnoses, including autism.

In 2013, the 5th version of the DSM, (DSM-V) included four diagnostic criteria for the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder

In 2013, the 5th version of the DSM, (DSM-V) included four diagnostic criteria for restrictive, repetitive behaviours. The person must show at least two examples of these behaviours as well as deficits in social communication for a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

These are…. Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech.

For example: simple motor stereotypes, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases.

Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behaviour.

For example:  extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat same food every day.

Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus.

For example: strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests.

Hyper (over) or hypo (under) reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment

For example:

  • Apparent indifference to pain/temperature.
  • Adverse response to specific sounds or textures.
  • Excessive smelling or touching of objects.
  • Visual fascination with lights or movement.

The DSM 5 now includes the levels of support required by the individual in the diagnostic process.

Level 1: Requires very substantial support

Level 2: Requires substantial support

Level 3: Requires Support

Always seek professional help if you feel that your child is displaying autistic traits.

The information provided in this presentation is for informational purposes only and should not used to assess a child for autism if you are not qualified to do so…

Author: Laura Crowley - Director of Educational Support Services
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