What’s in a Name? – Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • November 3, 2016

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a term that often causes confusion amongst professionals and parents alike. Over the years, the names given to the group of behaviours associated with this diagnosis, have changed frequently, leaving us with the latest single term Autism Spectrum Disorder. Previously, diagnostic terms such as Autism, Asperger’s Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) were used, and within this the label high functioning autism was also often given. So, why the change and what does it mean.

The change has come about mainly due to a greater understanding of ASD and how the behaviours associated with it are shown in different people. Previously, the three terms of Autism, Asperger’s Disorder and PDD were used to differentiate between those people who developed language (Asperger’s), and those who did not (Autism). The diagnosis of PDD (PDD NOS) was given to those individuals who showed some behaviours but did not meet the full criteria for either Autism or Asperger’s. Essentially, the terms all related to the same group of behaviours with the development or non-development of language being the determining factor in the diagnosis.

The new diagnostic label recognises that the behaviours that are associated with ASD can be shown to varying degrees in different people. The term ‘spectrum’ indicating that there is a range or continuum of intensity.

When we are talking about behaviours associated with ASD these fall into two core areas: difficulties with social communication and language, accompanied by restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests. Therefore, using the idea of the disorder being a spectrum, we can still have the possibility of one individual developing language and another not developing language with the same diagnosis.

To help clarify these differences and in keeping with the idea of a spectrum or continuum, the diagnosis of ASD also allows for a rating, or specifier, to be given based on the level of support an individual requires in each of the core areas. The ratings are:

Level 1 – Requiring Support

Level 2 – Requiring Substantial Support, and

Level 3 – Requiring Very Substantial Support

This means an individual could have a rating of Level 1 for Social Communication and Level 2 for Restricted, Repetitive Behaviours. These ratings allow for these differences in patterns of behaviour to be recognised and shows an understanding that the levels of support an individual requires can also change over time.

Whilst, the changes in name may be confusing, the new terminology offers a wider view of how the behaviours can manifest themselves and reflects our greater understanding of the disorder.

Anita North is a Psychologist and the Director of Ethos. Anita is an Australian Psychological Society recognised practitioner for the assessment and diagnosis of children with Autism.

If you would like further information on ASD or the services we provide to support children with ASD please contact Anita on anita@ethosasia.com