To be diagnosed with autism, an individual needs to demonstrate challenges in the areas of social communication as well as restrictive or repetitive patterns of behaviour (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)). Some examples of challenges in the area of social communication may include:
- difficulty having a conversation with others
- initiating or responding to social interactions with others
- providing eye contact when interacting with others
- understanding gestures or non-verbal cues
- maintaining relationships with others
Examples of restrictive or repetitive patterns of behaviour may include:
- repetitive speech or motor behaviour
- rigidity around routines
- challenges with transitions
- a fixated interest on a particular topic
- sensitivity to sensory inputs
Autism Spectrum Disorder
To be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, an individual needs to demonstrate challenges in social communication and engage in restrictive or repetitive patterns of behaviour. Autism spectrum disorder also encompasses a broad spectrum, including Asperger’s disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.
Prior to the publication of the DSM-5 in 2013, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder were considered diagnoses in and of themselves. Now, the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder includes those previously diagnosed with Aspergers or PDD-NOS.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what a diagnosis of autism means and what it looks like day-to-day. In reality, each individual diagnosed with autism is different, although they may share some similar challenges in order to meet the diagnostic criteria for the disorder. A recent study identified the following commonly held misconceptions about autism by individuals with varying experience or knowledge (John, Knott & Harvey, 2017):
- All people with autism are disinterested in social relationships
- All people with autism dislike being touched
- All people with autism are introverts
- All people with autism are unable to notice rejection
- All people with autism have unusual talents
- All people with autism are dangerous
- All people with autism are mentally unstable
These researchers’ findings demonstrate that people still hold inaccurate beliefs about autism and highlights the need for programs aimed to improve awareness and reduce stigmatization and isolation of individuals on the autism spectrum.
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Additional links & resources:
American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. pp. 5–25. ISBN 978-0-89042-555-8.
John, R., Knott, F. J. & Harvey, K. N. (2017). Myths about autism: An exploratory study using focus groups. Journal of Autism, 1-10.