Autism Spectrum Disorders Today, 2014
As the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders continues to rise (ASDs are now estimated to affect 1 in every 88 children), the American Psychological Association has recently revised the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) to reflect the true continuum that is autism.
Whereas previously the definition of “autism” was divided into five rather muddy sub-types, now all individuals who meet the criteria come under the single umbrella term “autism spectrum disorders.”
This change allows the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder to better reflect the colorful collection of individuals who demonstrate similar autistic-type characteristics, but may function in very different ways and at very different levels. The image of a spectrum effectively evokes the associated-differentness among individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
To meet the criteria for an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, according to DSM-V, an individual must demonstrate persistent and clinically significant:
• deficits in the social use of verbal and non-verbal communication
• restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior and/or interests.
The symptom profile may or may not include speech impairment, intellectual deficit, and hypo- or hyper-reactivity to sensory input. Diagnosticians are encouraged to supplement that term with clarification regarding functioning and severity of symptoms.
Still, as the prevalence, research, definition, and awareness of autism spectrum disorders have evolved over the years, I have encountered many children on the autism spectrum whose precise address along the spectrum remains unclear or inconsistent. And what I’ve discovered is that the diagnosis alone does not dictate the details of their functioning, education, or identity. The details are in the individuals. Every individual with an autism spectrum disorder is as unique as any other individual: She has her own strengths and challenges, her own likes and dislikes, her own patterns of action and reaction, her own past and future, her own personality, her own potential, and her own dreams.
In other words, there is plenty of room under the umbrella. Let it rain.