Before the year 2013, people with autism used to be assigned a specific category of diagnosis. These categories were Asperger’s syndrome, autism disorder, or PDD-NOS (to be clear, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified). Sometimes, they might even have been diagnosed with Rett syndrome or childhood degenerative disorder. This was mainly done in order to classify them according to the severity levels of autism.
In 2013, however, a new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was released, and autism diagnoses were completely redefined. The previously mentioned categories were all done away with and Rett syndrome disassociated from autism. For those who had only mild autism-like symptoms, a new diagnosis, social communication disorder, was created. Autism spectrum disorder became a single diagnosis comprising everyone who would have been in one of the five categories previously used for diagnosing autism.
DSM-5 now includes ‘levels of support’ distinctions to diagnose autism. This is because the autism spectrum has great variation. Some people with autism are brilliant while others may be intellectually disabled. Some have severe communication problems while others are writers and public speakers. To address the issue that there no longer exist categories to classify individuals according to the severity levels of autism, the DSM-5 diagnosis includes three “functional levels”, based on the amount of support an individual in each category requires in order to function in general society. In theory, an autism spectrum diagnosis with a functional level should help to draw a clearer picture of the individual’s abilities and special needs.
The Three Levels of Support described in the DSM are:
Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support
Those with this level diagnosis have severe deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication and social skills, causing severe impairments in functioning, very limited initiating of social interactions, as well as very minimal responses to overtures from others.
Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support
This diagnosis means that the individual has significant deficits in verbal and nonverbal social and communication skills. These impairments are apparent even with support being provided. These people rarely initiate social interactions and also react in quite reduced and abnormal ways to social overtures made by others.
Level 1: Requiring Support
If people in this category do not have support, their deficits cause noticeable social impairments.
They have difficulty initiating interactions as well as responding to overtures made by others.
Based on the severity levels of autism in each individual, many basic therapies needed to treat autism can be applied.