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Proposed Changes in DSM-5 Criteria

In recent weeks national and local media outlets have reported about proposed changes to diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version 5 (DSM 5). The proposed changes have not been formalized and that process is expected to be completed by December 2012. – Editor

What will the proposed changes to the diagnostic criteria mean for families and children with ASD? That is certainly a question that many have asked and just as many are researching.

While there are several major changes that include the elimination of diagnostic labels such as Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder not Otherwise Specified, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, the intent of these changes is not to limit the eligibility of individuals, but instead to eliminate an overlap in the criteria that is currently being used. Presently, there are inconsistencies in the distinctions among disorders. The anticipated changes would allow a single diagnostic category, Autism Spectrum Disorder, to represent each individual’s clinical specifiers and associated features.

My hope is that there would be a shift in focus from diagnostic labels to an individual’s characteristics and symptoms, which would lead to more appropriate and specialized treatment. There is great concern by some that reducing diagnostic domains from three to two and requiring both criteria to be completely fulfilled might result in individuals who, by today’s criteria, would receive a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, not receiving this diagnosis in the future. It is also possible that the broadening of criteria would allow some who have not previously been diagnosed to receive a diagnosis due to the fact that fewer symptoms overall would be required.

The Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC) is closely monitoring these changes in an effort to ensure that no individual on the autism spectrum is negatively impacted. In addition, ASNC will continue to provide services and supports for all individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. As the debate around proposed changes continues and the new DSM V is completed, we will keep you informed and welcome your feedback.

Leica Anzaldo is Training Manager for the Autism Society of North Carolina and can be reached via email at

Autism Society of North Carolina CEO Tracey Sheriff provided comments to media outlets including WRAL and WNCN-TV. To view those interviews click on the following links:

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