Home > School and Learning > Learning Differences > Autism > Behavioral Checklists for Autism

Behavioral Checklists for Autism

Because there is no medical test that can be given to diagnose autism, professionals depend on observing the behaviors of the person in question as well as the medical and developmental history. There are behavioral checklists available that are used to determine if the person has the specific number of characteristics as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), which is the standard reference for the definition of autism. A good diagnostic checklist is available through the Autism Research Institute (www.autismresearchinstitute.com).

This medical diagnostic handbook, currently in its fourth edition, is internationally used and recognized. When the DSM was revised in 1994, some changes were made. Previously, the category of pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), which includes autism, was coded or classified with other long-term stable disorders that have a poor prognosis. Now PDD has been classified with more transient, temporary, and episodic clinical disorders. This is a positive move that reflects what current research is now showing: that there is a possibility of improvement with intervention, and that symptoms can vary in intensity.

The diagnostic criteria for autism have changed slightly as well. In order for a person to be diagnosed with autism, he or she still needs to show deficits in the broad areas of social interaction, communication, and stereotyped patterns. However, the number of symptoms that fall under these categories has been reduced from sixteen to twelve, making this diagnostic category more homogeneous. A third change made was the addition of three new autism-related disorders: Rett's disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and Asperger's syndrome.

All individuals who fall under the PDD category in the DSM-IV have some communication and social deficits, but the levels of severity are different. Here are the differences between specific diagnoses that are used:

  • Autistic disorder (or classic autism): A child with this disorder shows impairments in imaginative play, social interaction, and communication, with an onset before the age of three. The child exhibits stereotyped behaviors, activities, and interests.
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder: The child develops normally and has age-appropriate verbal and nonverbal communication skills, social relationships, play, and adaptive behaviors for at least the first two years and then shows a significant loss of previously acquired skills.
  • Rett's disorder: So far, only girls have had this progressive disorder. There is a period of normal development through the first five months and then a loss of previously acquired skills. The girl loses the purposeful use of her hands, which is replaced with hand wringing. There is severe psychomotor delay and a poorly coordinated gait. (It is now possible, thanks to the recent development of a new genetic blood test, to test for this disorder.)
  • Asperger's syndrome: A child with Asperger's tests in the range of average to above average intelligence and has no clinically significant general delay in language. However, the child will show impairments in social interactions, including difficulty in using social cues such as body language, and has a restricted range of interests and activities.
  • Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (atypical autism): A diagnosis of PDD-NOS may be made when a child does not meet the criteria for a specific diagnosis, but there is a severe and pervasive impairment in specified behaviors.

You may wish to consult the diagnostic criteria from DSM-IVatwww.psychologynet.org/autism.html or at www.pediatricneurology.com.

More on: Autism


Excerpted from Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Complete Guide to Understanding Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Other ASDs©2004 by Chantal Sicile-Kira. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site.

st. patrick’s day

Celebrate the
luck of the Irish
with recipes
and activities.



10 Best Creative Apps for Kids
Looking for apps that foster creativity? Check out these top-rated art and music apps for kids.

Kindergarten Readiness App Wins Gold
Our Kindergarten Readiness app won the Gold Award of Excellence in the educational category at the 2014 Communicator Awards. This valuable checklist comes with games and activities to help your child practice the essential skills she needs for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

A New Intergalactic Reading Adventure!
Get your reluctant reader hooked on an irresistible new story, Galactic Hot Dogs! Join the Book 1 reading marathon, and get behind-the-scenes tidbits on the official Galactic Hot Dogs blog. Also, print this cool Galactic Hot Dogs reading log to keep your bookworm excited about reading!

Find Today's Newest & Best Children's Books!
Looking for newly released books for your child? Try our new Book Finder tool to search for new books by age, type, and theme, and create reading lists for kids!

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Twitter icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks