What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

What are the diagnostic criteria for (ASD)?

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ASD, often referred to simply as Autism, is a severe disruption of the normal developmental process and the symptoms are evident (but not always recognized) within the first few years of life.

Autism is viewed as a spectrum or a continuum of disorders, with varying degrees of severity across the domains of functioning. The two main symptom areas are deficits in social communication and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior.

For example, about half of children with autism have some level of speaking ability, while the remaining children have not developed any speech at all. For many parents the first sign they can recognize that something is wrong with their child’s development is delayed development of speech. This does not always mean that a child has autism, but all children should be screened for autism at their 18 and 24-month well-child checkup. Depending on the results from a simple questionnaire like the M-CHAT, more formal evaluation may be indicated.

DSM-5 – Autism Spectrum Disorder

Formal diagnosis requires assessment from a specialist such as a licensed psychologist or a developmental pediatrician. The criteria they will use are listed in the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) was published in 2013.

The manual reflects the state of knowledge of mental and developmental disorders. Changes in the newest edition include combining the previously distinct Pervasive Developmental Disorders (Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified) into one new disorder: Autism Spectrum Disorder. There is now a 3-level severity scale has been added to the manual: requiring support; requiring substantial support; requiring very substantial support.

Diagnostic Criteria:

(two Domains)

  • Impaired Social Communication and Interaction
  • Restricted Repetitive Behavior, interests or activities

Three Required Symptoms:

  • Deficits in social interaction
  • Deficits in social communication
  • Deficits in play or friendship

Restricted, repetitive behavior, interests, or activities:

(Must have a symptom in two of the four areas)

  • Repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech.
  • Rigidity related to routines or rituals.
  • Restricted interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus
  • Over or under-sensitivity or interest in sensory stimuli (pain, temperature, light, sound, etc.)

Severity Indication:

  • Level 1 (“Requiring support”)
  • Level 2 (“Requiring substantial support”)
  • Level 3 (“Requiring very substantial support”)


  • Well established diagnosis > ASD diagnosis
  • No longer meet criteria > Social Communication Disorder

If you think your child or a child in your life might have autism, take the first step toward seeing if they need extra care, attention, and support from you. Seek a diagnosis and support from professionals who use an evidence-based approach to achieve goals that help children thrive.

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