Autistic people are always communicating. Whether verbally or nonverbally, we express ourselves in our own unique ways. Yet, through the lens of most diagnostic tools, our communication methods are viewed as deficits.
I’m breaking down the DSM-5 assessment for ASD. The DSM-5 is not the only assessment for autism, but the traits it emphasizes are usually emphasized in other tools. We’ll take a look at each diagnostic criteria, its corresponding traits, and examples of how those traits may look on the daily. (I’m not a licensed professional, and I am speaking from my experience as an autistic diagnosed as an adult. DSM-5 info is available at CDC.gov.)
• Criteria. DSM-5 A looks at social communication & interaction. A.2 focuses on the following: Persistent “deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.”
• Traits. Possible ASD traits that fall under DSM-5 A.2 include: Selective mutism; not understanding humor/teasing; rarely making or making too much eye contact; focusing on mouths & hair instead of eyes; having flat/atypical expressions/voice
• Examples. Becoming so overwhelmed that speaking is painful; taking jokes personally; rarely laughing as a child; speaking only when spoken to as a child; talking “like a grownup” during childhood; being called “a starer”; using eye contact makes it hard to keep up with conversations; appearing emotionless when others are in distress; speaking in a monotone, singsong voice, or unclear accent.
Remember to recall both adult & childhood examples of the traits. DSM-5 C states that “symptoms must be present in the early developmental period.” While that may be frustrating, it’s rewarding to see how ASD has always been a part of our lives.