Diagnostic Criteria


The official diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition (DMV-V). This has been reprinted below.

Autism Spectrum Disorder – Diagnostic Criteria

A. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive, see text):

1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.

2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.

3. Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.

Specify current severity:

Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted repetitive patterns of behavior (see Table 2).

B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):

1. Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypes, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).

2. Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns or verbal nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat food every day).

3. Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g., strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interest).

4. Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).

Specify current severity:

Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior (see Table 2).

C. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).

D. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

E. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) or global developmental delay. Intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder frequently co-occur; to make co-morbid diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, social communication should be below that expected for general developmental level.

Note: Individuals with a well-established DSM-IV diagnosis of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified should be given the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Individuals who have marked deficits in social communication, but whose symptoms do not otherwise meet criteria for autism spectrum disorder, should be evaluated for social (pragmatic) communication disorder.

Specify if:
With or without accompanying intellectual impairment
With or without accompanying language impairment
Associated with a known medical or genetic condition or environmental factor
(Coding note: Use additional code to identify the associated medical or genetic condition.)
Associated with another neurodevelopmental, mental, or behavioural disorder
(Coding note: Use additional code[s] to identify the associated neurodevelopmental, mental, or behavioural disorder[s].)
With catatonia (refer to the criteria for catatonia associated with another mental disorder, pp. 119-120, for definition) (Coding note: Use additional code 293.89 [F06.1] catatonia associated with autism spectrum disorder to indicate the presence of the co-morbid catatonia.)

Table 2 Severity levels for autism spectrum disorder

Severity level

Social communication

Restricted, repetitive behaviours

Level 3
“Requiring very substantial support”

Severe deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills   cause severe impairments in functioning, very limited initiation of social   interactions, and minimal response to social overtures from others. For   example, a person with few words of intelligible speech who rarely initiates   interaction and, when he or she does, makes unusual approaches to meet needs   only and responds to only very direct social approaches

Inflexibility of behaviour, extreme difficulty coping with change, or   other restricted/repetitive behaviours markedly interfere with functioning in   all spheres. Great distress/difficulty changing focus or action.

Level 2
“Requiring substantial support”

Marked deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills;   social impairments apparent even with supports in place; limited initiation   of social interactions; and reduced or abnormal responses to social overtures   from others. For example, a person who speaks simple sentences, whose   interaction is limited to narrow special interests, and how has markedly odd   nonverbal communication.

Inflexibility of behaviour, difficulty coping with change, or other   restricted/repetitive behaviours appear frequently enough to be obvious to   the casual observer and interfere with functioning in a variety of contexts.   Distress and/or difficulty changing focus or action.

Level 1
“Requiring support”

Without supports in place, deficits in social communication cause   noticeable impairments. Difficulty initiating social interactions, and clear   examples of atypical or unsuccessful response to social overtures of others.   May appear to have decreased interest in social interactions. For example, a   person who is able to speak in full sentences and engages in communication   but whose to- and-fro conversation with others fails, and whose attempts to   make friends are odd and typically unsuccessful.