The DSM-5 introduction of the Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder as a new mental disorder: a philosophical review

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 43 (4):1-31 (2021)
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The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders included the Social Communication Disorder as a new mental disorder characterized by deficits in pragmatic abilities. Although the introduction of SPCD in the psychiatry nosography depended on a variety of reasons—including bridging a nosological gap in the macro-category of Communication Disorders—in the last few years researchers have identified major issues in such revision. For instance, the symptomatology of SPCD is notably close to that of Autism Spectrum Disorder. This opens up the possibility that individuals with very similar symptoms can be diagnosed differently and receive different clinical treatments and social support. The aim of this paper is to review recent debates on SPCD, particularly as regards its independence from ASD. In the first part, we outline the major aspects of the DSM-5 nosological revision involving ASD and SPCD. In the second part, we focus on the validity and reliability of SPCD. First, we analyze literature on three potential validators of SPCD, i.e., etiology, response to treatment, and measurability. Then, we turn to reliability issues connected with the introduction of the grandfather clause and the use of the concepts of spectrum and threshold in the definition of ASD. In the conclusion, we evaluate whether SPCD could play any role in contemporary psychiatry other than that of an independent mental disorder and discuss the role that non-epistemic factors could play in the delineation of the future psychiatry nosography.

Author Profiles

Elisabetta Lalumera
University of Bologna
M. Cristina Amoretti
Università degli Studi di Genova
Davide Serpico
University of Trento


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