As with any disorder, there is more to autism than meets the eye, and every individual case is different. In the last few years, it has become generally accepted knowledge that a person’s autism spectrum disorder diagnosis should be looked at from three different perspectives to help determine how a specific person’s autism disorder should be accommodated. These perspectives include the symptoms and other features of the disorder present in the individual, the way these symptoms affect the person’s daily life and ability to function, and the subjective experience and quality of life of the individual.
However, despite the recent acceptance of this three-pronged approach, the standard manuals used to categorize autism spectrum disorder still fail to properly do the job. Both the “International Statistical Classification of Diseases” (ICD) and the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM) take a person’s symptoms into consideration, but neither are very concerned with daily function or quality of life.
Not only that, but the ICD and DSM both lack a certain degree of specificity. They fail to give precise definitions for each ability or disability a person with autism might possess, and they don’t give appropriate examples of how these abilities and disabilities might translate to a person’s daily life, such as in school or the workplace.
In an attempt to change this issue, a new catalog has been developed to help categorize autism spectrum disorders by a new set of criteria. This catalog consists of a “master list” of 111 life skills and functions and acts as a sort of checklist in determining how autism affects a person’s quality of life and ability to navigate the world. This new system will hopefully help clinicians properly evaluate not only the daily challenges people with autism face but also their many strengths.
This new catalog is not meant to replace the current classification systems of autism. Rather, it supplements and complements them, offering more precise definitions and examples to help doctors better understand and help their patients.
The new catalog includes more than 100 “core sets,” or categories, of abilities, behaviors, and environmental factors that a person with autism may or may not experience.
Mayada Elsabbagh, assistant professor of neurology at McGill University in Montreal, calls the catalog a “more concise and international description that focuses more on function.”
There are, however, kinks that still need to be worked out of the new catalog system. For example, the adult version of the catalog does not include a “sensory sensitivity” category. Critics have also said that autistic adults should have been involved in the process of creating the catalog.
But despite the shortcomings it has, experts hope the new catalog will be just the thing we need to ensure that clinicians help their patients get the right intervention plans and IEPs set up so they can live their best lives.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?