‘Autism’ is a word tossed around in medical circles and news reports as a catchall description for a whole range of symptoms.

In some cases, specific terms have been used to help distinguish between the various forms of autism, which include individuals who exhibit symptoms ranging from mild social difficulties to serious communicative and behavioral disorders. For instance, Asperger’s disorder has been assigned to individuals with a set of relatively mild social and/or cognitive impairments.

However, next month will see the release of the new edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the source for diagnosing everything from depression to schizophrenia. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is defined in the DSM-5 as ‘a developmental neurobiological disorder, characterized by severe and pervasive impairments in reciprocal social interaction skills and communication skills (verbal and nonverbal), and by restricted, repetitive and stereotyped behavior, interests and activities.’

Previously used diagnoses, including Asperger’s, autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder (not otherwise specified) and childhood disintegrative disorder will now be considered part of an overall ASD diagnosis, which will specify symptoms based on severity in terms of social and communication deficits and behaviors.