Understanding Diagnostic Criteria for Autism

Diagnosed with Autism? A person must meet certain criteria in two main areas: social communication and interaction, and restrictive and repetitive behaviors. Understanding the diagnostic criteria is important to finding the right help for Autism.

Autism is a complex developmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior. Understanding the diagnostic criteria for Autism is an important guide for individuals and families as they seek the right type of support and resources.

The diagnostic criteria for Autism is based on the diagnostic manual called the DSM-5. It lists specific symptoms and behaviors that a person with Autism may exhibit. With a thorough evaluation and understanding of the symptoms and behaviors associated with Autism, individuals can then look for the right support so they can reach their full potential, whether in school or in life.

What is Autism?

Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) including high-functioning Asperger, is a neurodevelopmental challenge that impacts social interaction, communication, and behavior. We use the term “spectrum” to describe the wide range of symptoms and level of severity that individuals with Autism can experience. The symptoms and level of impact of ASD can vary greatly from person to person, which is why it is referred to as a spectrum disorder.

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Individuals with Autism typically experience some degree of difficulty or even lagging development in social interactions and communication. They may also have repetitive behaviors, intense interests in specific objects, or know a lot about certain topics. An intense or reactive response to a sensory experience is also common.

It’s important to note that Autism is not a mental illness that needs therapy per se, but rather a neurological diversity that affects the way a person develops, perceives, and interacts with the world around them. 

The Diagnostic Criteria for Autism

The diagnostic criteria for Autism is based on the diagnostic manual called the DSM-5. The DSM-5 lists specific symptoms and behaviors that a person with Autism may exhibit. To be diagnosed with Autism, a person must meet certain criteria in two main areas: social communication and interaction, and restrictive and repetitive behaviors.

How is an Autism Diagnosis Made?

Diagnosing Autism typically involves a comprehensive evaluation by a multidisciplinary team, which may include a psychologist, developmental pediatrician, occupational therapist, and speech-language pathologist. Diagnosis may be made on into adulthood. Diagnosis is not just for childhood. 

The evaluation process typically involves several steps, including:

  • Developmental history: The healthcare professional will take a detailed history of the individual’s development, including milestones reached and any concerns or difficulties that have been noticed.
  • Observations: The healthcare professional may observe the individual in various settings, such as at home or at school, to assess their behaviors and interactions with others.
  • Tests and assessments: The provider may utilize the gold standardized of assessments known as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) to help diagnose Autism.
  • Interviews with caregivers: The professional may also interview the individual’s caregivers, such as parents or teachers, or utilize questionnaires to gather additional information about behaviors and social interactions.

A person may be diagnosed at a young age while in preschool. For others, one’s presentation of ASD may be very subtle to an outsider or not be noticeable until a later developmental stage where life or school becomes difficult. For some in their teens or adulthood, others see the signs while the person denies any sense of what others observe. 

It is important to note that there is no single test that can diagnose Autism. Instead, the diagnosis is made through a combination of the above steps and a thorough evaluation of the individual’s social interactions, challenges, and behaviors including looking at a thorough developmental history and presentation over the years.

What you can expect in the report of assessment results.

Among the many details in an Educational Psychological or Neuro Psychological report, you can expect details specific to meeting the criteria for an ASD diagnosis. You will read about how the criteria for a diagnosis have been met in each key area including Social Communication and Interaction and also in Repetitive and Restricted Behavior. The assessment will identify how these two areas are seen as challenged in the person, the degree of impact on one’s life and the level to which support is needed.

Social Communication and Interaction

Social communication and interaction difficulties are common characteristics of Autism. 

Observations may include but are not limited to: 

  • challenges in initiating and maintaining conversations or relationships
  • may appear distant or uninterested in social interaction
  • lack of understanding sarcasm or jokes or making inappropriate jokes
  • missing or misinterpreting social cues
  • lack of perspective taking
  • struggles to understand and respond appropriately to nonverbal communication such as gestures or facial expressions.

Restricted and Repetitive Behaviors

Restricted and repetitive behaviors are also commonly seen in individuals with Autism. 

Observations in this category of criteria may include but are not limited to:

  • repetitive movements or routines
  • intense interests in specific objects
  • interests or preferences that seem to be intense and then shift to something entirely different
  • know a lot about certain topics
  • heightened or unexpected responses to sound, texture, movement
  • dislike of change in routine
  • attached to sameness that appears rigid and inflexible

What Comes After the Assessment and Diagnosis

Better Understanding of Individual’s Strengths and Needs

A high-quality assessment by a person very familiar with neurodiversity provides an understanding of an individual’s Autism diagnosis and unique presentation. Well-identified needs and strengths can also help families and caregivers better understand what is needed going forward. This can lead to more effective support and best planning for their future.

Reduced Stress and Anxiety

Receiving and understanding a well formulated diagnosis can also help reduce stress and anxiety for individuals and their families. It provides a clearer understanding of what may be causing certain behaviors or difficulties.

Access to Resources and Support

Receiving a diagnosis of Autism with detailed information on how criteria was met, the impact on function, whether compounded by intellectual disability or not and the level of support needed can then lead to the best possible resources and support for individuals and their families. 

This may include but is not limited to:

  • developmental interventions
  • educational accommodations or services
  • support groups
  • advocacy organizations
  •  specialized academic settings
  • Supportive housing and help launching to independence

With the right support and resources, individuals with Autism can thrive and reach their own personal or unique potential, whatever that is.

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Get Autism Help in Florida, Georgia, Texas,  & Throughout the United States

Seeking clarity about an Autism Diagnosis including high functioning Asperger and Pathological Demand AvoidanceLooking for Parent Coaching as you parent a student or adult with ASD? Need a transition plan or GAP year for a young adult with Asperger?

Educational Consultant Elaine Morgan is an expert in ASD and delights in educating and supporting parents of children and teens. Morgan Guidance Services also provides Autism help through coaching and career counseling to young adults.

  1. Contact us or book a complimentary consultation.
  2. Start working with an Educational Consultant who can provide you with Autism help.
  3. Get support in planning for your future.

Other Educational & Therapeutic Services Offered at Morgan Guidance Services in the US

We offer a variety of services that can help you find your clear path forward. This includes consulting on therapeutic boarding schools and programs. As well as mental health patient advocacy. All of these services are available in Florida, Georgia, Texas, and throughout the United States.



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