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Autistic Disorder

Suggested Diagnostic Criteria For Autistic Disorders In Children

The two most common documents used for the diagnosis of Autistic Disorders are the DSM IV and ICD 10. The DSM IV is used mostly in the United States though it has been used elsewhere, including the U.K., whereas the ICD 10 is more commonly used in Europe. We have included the descriptions of both, as below.

ICD 10 (European Description)

Note: Consider a criterion met only if the behaviour is considerably more frequent than that of most people of the same mental age.

DSM IV (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual) Autistic Disorders Diagnostic Criteria:

(A). A total of six (or more) items from (1), (2), and (3), with at least two from (1), and one each from (2) and (3):

A. qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:

a. marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction

b. failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level

c. a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest)

d. lack of social or emotional reciprocity

B. qualitative impairments in communication as manifested by at least one of the following:

a. delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime)

b. in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others

c. stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language

d. lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level

C. restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:

a. encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus

b. apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals

c. stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)

d. persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

B. Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age 3 years: (1) social interaction, (2) language as used in social communication, or (3) symbolic or imaginative play.

C. The disturbance is not better accounted for by Rett's Disorder or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.

Differential Diagnosis

Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders; Rett's Disorder; Childhood Disintegrative Disorder; Asperger's Disorder; Schizophrenia; Selective Mutism; Expressive Language Disorder; Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder; Mental Retardation; Stereotypic Movement Habit Disorder.

Autistic Disorder - European Description:

The ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders World Health Organization, Geneva, 1992


F84.0 Childhood Autism
F84.1 Atypical Autism

F84.0 Childhood Autism:

A pervasive developmental disorder defined by the presence of abnormal and/or impaired development that is manifest before the age of 3 years, and by the characteristic type of abnormal functioning in all three areas of social interaction, communication, and restricted, repetitive behaviour. The disorder occurs in boys three to four times more often than in girls.

Diagnostic Guidelines

Usually there is no prior period of unequivocally normal development but, if there is, abnormalities become apparent before the age of 3 years. There are always qualitative impairments in reciprocal social interaction. These take the form of an inadequate appreciation of socio-emotional cues, as shown by a lack of responses to other people's emotions and/or a lack of modulation of behaviour according to social context; poor use of social signals and a weak integration of social, emotional, and communicative behaviours; and, especially, a lack of socio-emotional reciprocity. Similarly, qualitative impairments in communications are universal. These take the form of a lack of social usage of whatever language skills are present; impairment in make-believe and social imitative play; poor synchrony and lack of reciprocity in conversational interchange; poor flexibility in language expression and a relative lack of creativity and fantasy in thought processes; lack of emotional response to other people's verbal and nonverbal overtures; impaired use of variations in cadence or emphasis to reflect communicative modulation; and a similar lack of accompanying gesture to provide emphasis or aid meaning in spoken communication.

The condition is also characterized by restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests, and activities. These take the form of a tendency to impose rigidity and routine on a wide range of aspects of day-to day functioning; this usually applies to novel activities as well as to familiar habits and play patterns. In early childhood particularly, there may be specific attachment to unusual, typically non-soft objects. The children may insist on the performance of particular routines in rituals of a nonfunctional character; there may be stereotyped preoccupations with interests such as dates, routes or timetables; often there are motor stereotypies; a specific interest in nonfunctional elements of objects (such as their smell or feel) is common; and there may be a resistance to changes in routine or in details of the personal environment (such as the movement of ornaments or furniture in the family home).

In addition to these specific diagnostic features, it is frequent for children with autism to show a range of other nonspecific problems such as fear/phobias, sleeping and eating disturbances, temper tantrums, and aggression. Self-injury (e.g. by wrist-biting) is fairly common, especially when there is associated severe mental retardation. Most individuals with autism lack spontaneity, initiative, and creativity in the organization of their leisure time and have difficulty applying conceptualizations in decision-making in work (even when the tasks themselves are well within their capacity). The specific manifestation of deficits characteristic of autism change as the children grow older, but the deficits continue into and through adult life with a broadly similar pattern of problems in socialization, communication, and interest patterns. Developmental abnormalities must have been present in the first 3 years for the diagnosis to be made, but the syndrome can be diagnosed in all age groups.

All levels of IQ can occur in association with autism, but there is significant mental retardation in some three-quarters of cases.

Differential Diagnosis:

* autistic disorder
* infantile autism
* infantile psychosis
* Kanner's syndrome

Apart from the other varieties of pervasive developmental disorder it is important to consider: specific developmental disorder of receptive language (F80.2) with secondary socio-emotional problems; reactive attachment disorder (F94.1) or disinhibited attachment disorder (F94.2); mental retardation (F70-F79) with some associated emotional/behavioural disorder; schizophrenia (F20.- ) of unusually early onset; and Rett's syndrome (F84.2).


* autistic psychopathy (F84.5)

F84.1 Atypical Autism:

A pervasive developmental disorder that differs from autism in terms either of age of onset or of failure to fulfil all three sets of diagnostic criteria. Thus, abnormal and/or impaired development becomes manifest for the first time only after age 3 years; and/or there are insufficient demonstrable abnormalities in one or two of the three areas of psychopathology required for the diagnosis of autism (namely, reciprocal social interactions, communication, and restrictive, stereotyped, repetitive behaviour) in spite of characteristic abnormalities in the other area(s). Atypical autism arises most often in profoundly retarded individuals whose very low level of functioning provides little scope for exhibition of the specific deviant behaviours required for the diagnosis of autism; it also occurs in individuals with a severe specific developmental disorder of receptive language. Atypical autism thus constitutes a meaningfully separate condition from autism.


* atypical childhood psychosis
* mental retardation with autistic features

ICD-10 copyright 1992 by World Health Organization. Internet Mental Health ( copyright 1995-1997 by Phillip W. Long, M.D.

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