The DSM diagnostic criteria written from a Neurodiversity perspective

This is a historic blog post which I want to share, mostly because I really like it and it is an example of the strengths approach to autism. We are almost on Neurodiversity Pride Day and I thought this was a good pride piece…

When I was writing The Guide to Good Mental Health on the Autism Spectrum, 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, passion 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 or anxious.
  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 wonderfully 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 societies  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) Autistic people are Autistic people. They are amazing as is and defy this sort of diagnostic negativity through their brilliance.

2 thoughts on “The DSM diagnostic criteria written from a Neurodiversity perspective

  1. Thank you 😊 for your own description. I couldn’t understand everything you said, yet you explained some things that I could definitely relate too, but I wasn’t even aware of! I’m really struggling atm with several areas like APD, anxiety, mental health and regulating my emotions. Kindest regards, Nikki 🏳️‍🌈

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s