There’s been a fair amount of discussion of the new/proposed autism criteria around the web, and particularly on tumblr. I’m glad we’re finally talking about them, since my original opinion on them was that they were fine. Not great, not terrible, probably not going to exclude anyone, and just sort of…meh.

A few people on tumblr have rightfully pointed out that the criteria are actually moving even further away from the lived experience of autism towards useless constructs of what autistic behaviour does/should look like according to allistic researchers. This is hugely problematic, if for no other reason than it’s scientifically unsound. Accordingly, I’ve been thinking about what I would prefer criteria to look like. This is what I have so far. All constructive criticism and commentary is very much welcome, since I think that the diagnostic criteria for autism should be autistic-defined as a broad group–we’re effectively deciding who gets to be in our group with us.

Apologies for the wonky formatting. WordPress was not happy with my beautiful tiered bullets.

A. Differences in perception (at least 3)
1. Sensory defensiveness (ie, complaints or avoidance of any of the following: loud noises or places, bright lights, textures (food or object/clothing), tastes, smells, touch)
2. Sensory seeking (ie, stims or stimming behaviour such as rocking, flapping, finger flicking, hair twirling, spinning objects, etc or actively desiring any of the following: deep pressure or touch, vestibular sensation [swings, spinning in any context, etc], specific smells, tastes, or textures)
3. Auditory processing difficulties
4. Unusual, awkward, or delayed motor skills, or asymmetry between gross and fine motor skills (ie, clumsy but with strong fine motor skills, good gross motor skills with poor hand-writing or table skills)
5. A reduced or lack of conscious awareness and/or use of allistic (not autistic) nonverbal behaviour and communication such as facial expression, gesture, and posture.
This criterion should not exclude persons who have learnt to read or otherwise comprehend nonverbal behaviour by rote learning, particularly adults. Intentional learning to overcome an inherent difficulty in comprehension is supportive of this criterion. It should also not exclude persons who have been taught to use nonverbals to be less visibly different. In such cases, internal report of difficulty should take precedence over apparent behaviour.

B. Differences in cognition (at least 3, one of which must be 1 or 2)
1. Difficulty in beginning or ending (at least 1):
-Perseverative thoughts or behaviours
-Needing prompts (visual, verbal, hand-over-hand, etc) to begin or finish a task
-Difficulties planning complex activities
-Catatonia
-Difficulty switching between activities
-Lack of apparent startle response
2. Difficulty in using language (at least 1):
-Problems with pronoun use that are developmentally inappropriate
-A reduced or lack of awareness of tone in self (ie, speaks in a monotone, childish, or otherwise unusual manner) and/or others (ie, does not perceive sarcasm or follow implied prompts, responds to rhetorical statements and questions in earnest)
-A reduced or lack of awareness of volume (ie, speaks too loud or too quietly for the situation)
-No functional language use
-Echolalia
-Mutism in some or all situations
3. At least one special interest in a topic that is unusual for any combination of intensity (ie, does not want to learn/talk about anything else, collects all information about the topic) or subject matter (ie, unusual, obscure, or not considered age appropriate). Topics may be age appropriate and/or common (such as a popular television show or book), but the intensity of interest and/or specific behaviour (such as collecting or organising information as the primary focus) should be taken into account.
4. Asymmetry of cognitive skills
5. Talents in pattern recognition, including music, mathematics, specific language structures, puzzles, and art.
6. A tendency to focus on details instead of the broader picture, across contexts.

C. These differences cause impairment and/or distress in at least one context (ie, school, work, home), which may be variable over time.
D. Symptoms should be present in early childhood, but may not be noticable until social demands outpace compensatory skills, at any age

2 Responses to cause surely you have some kind of opinion

  1. Alyssa says:

    I like this set of criteria! It includes strengths and weaknesses both, which is winful. (And yes, I am autistic.)
    So, I meet:
    A: 1,2,4,5 (unsure on 3)
    B: 1 in perseverative thoughts, sometimes failing to startle, sometimes startling too easily
    2 in tone, volume, and low-level (didn’t interfere with getting my point accross) echolalia
    3-6 (aka I have something from every part of B)
    C: How about anything social and every time I can’t avoid the sensory issues?
    D: It was all there, all the time, yeah. How problematic it is has varied a lot with time though.

  2. [...] of someone autistic in mind—meaning looking at the underlying differences, not behavioural ones. These are what I’ve come up with so far. I would love to be able to refine and validate these/something built off of these some time in the [...]