Prevalence of Autism May Decrease Based on New DSM Criteria

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • The criteria for diagnosing autism spectrum disorders (ASD) changed in May 2013. Prior to the release of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual - 5, there were separate categories for autism and Asperger’s syndrome, which is sometimes considered a milder form of autism. The new DSM combined these and made the guidelines for diagnosing ASD much stricter. Many critics worried that this new criteria would leave out many children who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome or who displayed mild symptoms of autism.

    According to the new criteria, individuals need to exhibit five symptoms of autism in order to be diagnosed. Previously, this was two, making it more difficult to receive a diagnosis. However, in other ways, the new criteria is more flexible, for example, previously, symptoms needed to be current, but in the new criteria, doctors can consider past behaviors as well.

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    In addition, a new disorder, social-communication disorder, was added to the DSM. This diagnosis is for individuals who have deficits in social and communication skills but don’t have some of the other typical autism symptoms, such as repetitive or restrictive behaviors. Many people believed that those diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome would be given this diagnosis instead. However, critics feared that because there is no treatment for this new disorder, many of these people would lose services.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently completed a study involving analyzing the records of 6,577 8-year old who were diagnosed with autism under the old guidelines. They found that 81 percent of these children would still qualify for a diagnosis of autism under the new guidelines. That’s good news for 80 percent of those who rely on services and treatments for autism.

    It isn’t necessarily good news for the other almost 20 percent of children who no longer meet the diagnostic criteria, although, according to an article on, schools and states are still recognizing a previous diagnosis of autism. If that continues, those diagnosed with ASD under the old guidelines will still receive services without a reevaluation; the new guidelines would only affect those that are currently seeking a diagnosis. Unfortunately, according to Autism Speaks, a national advocacy organization, some families have reported their child’s diagnosis changed and they lost services because of it.

    Another study, funded in part by Autism Speaks, found that when you combine both diagnoses, ASD and social communication disorder (SCD), the prevalence rate doesn’t change. They found 83 percent of children would still receive a diagnosis of autism and 14 percent would receive a diagnosis of SCD. The only thing that would change is the category where your child is placed. But, as of right now, there aren’t any treatment guidelines for SCD, although treatments for autism should benefit those with SCD as well. It is recommended that if your child was receiving services or treatments for ASD, these continue for SCD.

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    “A Compariosn of DMS-IV PDD and DSM-5 ASD Prevalence in an Epidemiologic Sample,” 2013, June, Young Shin Kim et al, Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

    “Autism Cases May Drop Under New Diagnostic Criteria,” 2014, Jan 22, Alexandia Sifferlin,

    “DSM-5 & Autism: Autism Speaks Study Clarifies Impact of New Criteria,” 2014, Jan 27, Staff Writer, Autism Speaks

Published On: March 10, 2014