New autism category proposed for DSM-5

January 31, 2012
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New autism category proposed for DSM-5

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has proposed new diagnostic criteria for the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) for autism. A new category is being recommended called "autism spectrum disorder," which would incorporate several previously separate diagnoses, including autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder.

The proposal asserts that symptoms of these four disorders represent a continuum from mild to severe, rather than a simple yes or no diagnosis to a specific disorder. The proposed diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder specify a range of severity as well as describe the individual’s overall developmental status--in social communication and other relevant cognitive and motor behaviors.

“The proposed criteria will lead to more accurate diagnosis and will help physicians and therapists design better treatment interventions for children who suffer from autism spectrum disorder,” said Dr. James Scully, medical director of the APA.

The draft DSM-5 criteria will provide a more useful dimensional assessment to improve the sensitivity and specificity of the criteria. This change will help clinicians more accurately diagnose people with relevant symptoms and behaviors by recognizing the differences from person to person, rather than providing general labels that tend not to be consistently applied across different clinics and centers.

Proposed DSM-5 criteria are being tested in real-life clinical settings known as field trials. Field testing of the proposed criteria for autism spectrum disorder does not indicate that there will be any change in the number of patients receiving care for autism spectrum disorders in treatment centers--just more accurate diagnoses that can lead to more focused treatment.

Criteria proposed for DSM-5 are posted on the DSM-5 website and will be open for additional public comment this spring. More information on the process for developing DSM-5 is also available on the website. Final publication of DSM-5 is planned for May 2013.

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