The DSM 5 Autism criteria – rewritten with neurodiversity in mind

For Emma, Jane and my new book about Autism and mental illness, I had to dig out the diagnostic criteria for Autism in the DSM- 5. It made me sad, so I decided to whip out my advocate brush and give it a neurodiversity-based touch-up. I hope you like it. I’m not sure how a doctor would use it but I prefer it to the original version. The way it works is that I have listed each category of the DSM -5 diagnostic criteria for Autism in italics and underneath have redrafted it. Enjoy.

A. Persistent deficits in social communication and interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by all of the following (currently or by history):

1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity

2. Deficits in nonverbal communication behaviours used for social interaction

3. Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships

Specify current severity based on social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour.

A (Ausome) Different ways of communicating and relating to others. This is part of the person’s basic make-up. It is not a deficit or a disability, it is just a different way of communicating. Some ways in which this might be demonstrated include:

  1. Different ways of relating and experiencing emotions. Some people may have hyper-empathy.  They may make excellent psychologists or counsellors.
  2. Interacting in different ways. Being honest and straightforward and not generally using things like manipulation or sarcasm.
  3. Approaching relationships differently to non-Autistic people. People may be very loyal and/or have strong bonds with an individual or small group of friends. Autistic people often have a great connection with non-human ‘people’ too and a connection to the natural world.

B. Restrictive, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history:

1. Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech

2. Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualised patterns of verbal

or nonverbal behaviour

3. Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus

4. Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the


B (Beautiful) May be experts in a particular area, have a strong focus and determination. May have very strong interests on a topic and activities related to these interests may result in a great sense of joy and satisfaction.

  1. Innovative and imaginative use of objects. Creativity.
  2. The ability to follow a schedule. Seeing patterns in things – very useful if the person wants to work for the police as an investigator or be a mathematician or climate scientist.
  3. Passionate engagement in a particular interest. As life progresses, Autists can develop a huge general knowledge based on all the topics they may have been interested in. Very useful if the person wants to be a university professor. Also, the interests can form an excellent self-soothing tool should the person be depressed.
  4. Exceptional, accurate and perceptive sensory skills. This is highly useful in areas like catering and viticulture.

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). 

C (Curious and Clever)

Young children may be quirky, smart and individual. As they grow older, the world can dampen their amazing spirit but do not be disheartened as Autistic people are often resilient and resourceful.

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

D (Diverse) The weight of a world which often does not value or respect Autistic people can mean that they struggle to navigate life. This is not due to their inherent deficiencies, rather it is mostly a result of a focus on some arbitrary ‘norm’.  With the right support, understanding and self-confidence, Autistic people can rise above this and be their best ‘them’. This is an area for further work.

E. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) or global developmental delay.

E (Exceptional) Auties are Auties. They are amazing as is and defy this sort of diagnostic negativity through their brilliance.

Individuals with a well-established 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 is social communication, but whose symptoms do not otherwise meet criteria for autism spectrum disorder, should be evaluated for social (pragmatic) communication disorder.

Auties should be given a diagnosis of ‘human being’ along with all the other human beings. We are all pretty much the same and just a little bit different.


A meme and a me, being Ausome and winning things…

12 thoughts on “The DSM 5 Autism criteria – rewritten with neurodiversity in mind

  1. I agree Jeanette. also feel that Asperger’s etc should recognised for the difference in their difference as lack of acceptance of DIFFERENCE on behalf of NTs is the cornerstone of many of the “world problems’. Heightened ability to empathise is treated as a “maladaptation’ … how strange .. also contradicts the blanket assertion that those on the Spectrum can’t empathise. Personally I feel that this assumption is formed by NT people who are blind to everything that is not the proscribed norm and interpret a “non- normal” response as signifying lack of empathy. There have been times when being overwhelmed by empathy I’ve become ‘paralysed ‘ to act ( particularly when much younger or when thrown a “curved ball”) recently I’ve been told that I ” care too much” as I’ve doggedly pursued avenues for addressing a situation that caused/causes much harm to others.


  2. Autsome! This is me. Just became a SENCO. My historical research amazes people as I find pathways to connect info others never considered. I cry and empathise at a level others don’t get. I recall minute details of the personalities of hundreds of children I have known as a teacher. My empathy leaves me exhausted and frustrated when I can’t help others.


    1. Your account echoes my life experience even down to the memories of personalities of my many hundred former students. I also see connections that are blindingly obvious to me but seemingly invisible to most people. As a keen “student” of cultures I’m aware of the cross-cultural ignorance that causes much division in the global political arena and feel despair, and actually cry, at the insensitivities exhibited by the leaders of our multicultural society in dealing with issues within and without Australia.
      Lack of awareness abounds in the world with attitudes to others being based on their own self reflection ( as in mirroring themselves) which is rather insular, exclusive, and limiting in the possibilities for self development. Difference is abhorred rather than being accepted or welcomed with an active inquiring mind… curiosity being stifled.
      Somehow the illusion of “self image” prevents many from being honest, sincere, and curious.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful! My child does not end with your depiction of him from the diagnosis but that is where he begins. His Autism is not who he is but rather how he responds to the rest of the world around him. Love this!


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