Author: Alal Eran

Crunching the autism equation in the DSM-5 era

solving the autism equation
An 'Information Commons' could better delineate the different faces of ASD by combining objective molecular, biochemical and neurological measures.
Alal Eran, PhD, studies the molecular basis of autism at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Yet another redefinition of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has stirred up debate. The new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) now collapses four previously distinct conditions—autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified—under one umbrella label of ASD. It also collapses the traditional autistic triad (social deficits, communication impairments and restricted interests/behaviors) into two domains: social/communication deficits and restricted interests/behaviors.

While intended to increase accuracy and utility, the new diagnostic criteria for autism—the fifth revision since 1980—have attracted an unprecedented level of criticism by clinicians, researchers and families. The criteria for membership in DSM categories are much less robust than those for other clinical classification schemes—as evidenced by the rapid change in the DSM over the last 50 years. But more importantly, they are based only on behavioral symptoms.

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