Upcoming Changes in the DSM-5 Spark Major Controversies – Part I

If you have a family member with autism, you have likely heard of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).   The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association and it is the primary manual used by clinicians to provide a formal diagnosis of autism and related disorders. 

The 4th edition of the DSM has been under revision for several years and a new edition, the DSM-5, will be released in 2013.  This is the first major rewrite of the DSM in nearly 20 years.  According to an Associated Press Article, the aim is not to expand the number of people diagnosed with mental illness, but to ensure that affected children and adults are more accurately diagnosed so they can get the most appropriate treatment.


Significant changes are being made:

  • Changes to the criteria and categories of Autism Spectrum Disorders are planned for the new edition. One of the most hotly debated changes is that the separate diagnostic labels of Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, and PDD-NOS will be replaced by one umbrella term “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” 
  • Further distinctions will be made according to severity levels.  The severity levels (levels 1, 2, and 3) are based on the amount of support needed, due to challenges with social communication and restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. 
  • The revisions have been made with the hope that the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders will be more specific, reliable, and valid.  Despite these positive hopes, serious concerns have been raised regarding how these changes might impact people on the spectrum. One of the biggest concerns is that some who are higher functioning will no longer meet the more strict diagnostic criteria and will therefore have difficulties accessing relevant services.  Click here for an article explaining the rationale behind the changes.  Click here or here for articles giving reasons opposing the change.  

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