The DSM-5 Autism Definition – Everything You Need To Know

A definitive guide to DSM-5 autism

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It’s estimated that approximately 1 in every 59 people in the United States is on the autistic spectrum. According to the Autism Society, this adds up to around 3.5 million US citizens today. This is quite a staggering number. However, the autism spectrum is extremely broad. So, the numbers of people with severe autism is inevitably significantly lower.

The way in which we view autism has undergone huge change over the years. In the past, autism was not well understood at all. Autistic children were simply seen as difficult children. They were thought to be undisciplined, lacking respect for authority and downright troublesome. In classroom environments autistic children were left behind by teachers who simply weren’t qualified to handle their unique needs. In truth, teachers didn’t recognise that their autistic students even had unique needs with the exception of a firmer hand than others.

Life has indeed been very difficult for autistic children and their parents historically. Rather than seeing autism for what it is, people treated it as madness, stupidity or even possession by evil spirits.

Thankfully, the pioneering work of one man brought change. In 1944, Hans Asperger published a work entitled “Autistic Psychopathy in Childhood”. This book was essentially the starting point for a new, clinical understanding of autism in children. It laid the path for autism to be properly studied, seen and treated as the developmental disability it really is.

Today life for autistic people is much easier than it was in the past. Special schools for students with extreme autism are now commonplace. In the early years of life, receiving the care and attention a child with autism needs can have a hugely positive influence on them. These schools provide just that. There is additional supports available and carers of autistic folks too, although many would say that there isn’t enough.

There can be no doubt that society has come on leaps and bounds over the past century when it comes to providing care and support to those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Of course, there will always be room for more improvements to be made.

The Symptoms of Autism

The symptoms of autism can be tricky to spot, or blatantly obvious depending on the severity of an individual’s condition. The fact that many of the symptoms begin to show in infancy make them even more difficult to spot as every child develops according to their own time schedule. It’s very easy for parents, particularly first-time parents, to panic when a baby is slower to walk or talk than others. Most of the time, this means nothing except that the kid is taking their time. However, it can be a sign of autism when developmental milestones aren’t met.

Here are some of the most common symptoms to watch out for.

  • Delayed developmental milestones in infancy
  • Monotonous, flat speech
  • Extreme difficulty concentrating or maintaining focus
  • Problems with social skills
  • Lack of basic communication skills
  • Compulsive and often repetitive behaviours
  • Inability to maintain eye contact when communicating and interacting with others

It’s easy to see why folks saw those with severe autism as mad or deranged in the past as so many of these symptoms are related to everyday behaviours that we take for granted.

The DSM-5 Definition

Since then, our understanding of autism has developed dramatically. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5) is run by the American Psychiatric Association. This is the fifth time that key mental illnesses have undergone re-evaluation. It has resulted in specific changes to the way we view many of them, including autism. DSM-5 has led to a revised diagnosis for autism in particular.

Under DSM-5, the autistic spectrum has been broadened further to include:

  1. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
  2. Asperger’s Syndrome
  3. Autistic Disorder
  4. Pervasive Developmental Disorder

How Does The Autism Spectrum Work? How To Diagnose

While the above four disorders were seen as separate to the autistic spectrum up until now, the DSM-5 pulls them all in under the umbrella of the autistic spectrum. It is believed that this change will make the diagnosis and treatment of children and adults who suffer from a range of intellectual disabilities easier for clinicians.

The word “autism” isn’t one that any parent wants to here. Life as an autistic person is infinitely more difficult. The disorder makes it almost impossible for many patients to make friends, enjoy carers, or even have a family of their own. However, this certainly isn’t the case for everyone on the autistic spectrum.

Thankfully, our understanding of autistic disorders and people with autism is deepening everyday. As this continues, society can do more to provide the care and support to autistic patients and their families that they deserve.

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Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
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