Has Autism Changed?

In Monika dos Santos & Jean-Francois Pelletier (eds.), The Social Constructions and Experiences of Madness. Leiden: Brill. pp. 75-94 (2018)
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The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was published in 2013 containing the following changes from the previous edition: gone are the subcategories ‘Autistic Disorder,’ ‘Asperger Syndrome’ and ‘PDD-NOS,’ replaced by the single diagnosis ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder,’ and there is a new category ‘Social Communication Disorder.’ In this paper I consider what kind of reasons would justify these changes if one were (a) a realist about autism, or (b) one were a constructivist. I explore various analyses of autism in the research literature that portray it as essentially either a psychological, neurological or genetic phenomenon, and discuss these by reference to the diagnostic criteria and by analogy with the way we understand race and sex categories. I conclude that no realist reasons are available to justify the changes in the diagnostic criteria, and further, that the only way the changes could be justified is if one takes the position that the DSM categories are social constructs. I conclude by exploring what implications follow from this.
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First archival date: 2016-05-14
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