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Autism

Severity Levels of Autism

03/15/2007

Question:

What is moderate Autism?

Answer:

This is not a technical or official term, and it probably reflects the clinician's perception of level of severity of the autism symptoms. The symptoms with which most clinicians in the United States work come from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. These come from the following three categories:

For a diagnosis of autistic disorder, one needs six symptoms total. Thus, there are three possible meanings for the nonofficial term, “moderate autism”: for example, if a child patient has two symptoms from each category, the minimum number necessary for diagnosis, the clinician may be inclined to conclude that moderate autism is present.

Similarly, if most of the symptoms that are present are moderate in intensity, the clinician may decide to use moderate as a descriptor. For example, stereotyped and repetitive motor movements can run the gamut from a mild repetitive movement of the fingers to constant whole-body movements that are very noticeable to even the most casual observer. If most symptoms fall into a moderate category (e.g., occasional body rocking from the previous example), then the clinician may be tempted to use the term moderate. We assume that the term is intended to capture overall levels of impairment and intensity for the patient.

Finally, the term might be used to describe someone who does not meet full diagnostic criteria for autistic disorder but appears autistic, meeting criteria for “pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.” However, most such cases would probably be described as mild rather than moderate.

For more information:

Go to the Autism health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Michael G Aman, PhD Michael G Aman, PhD
Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

L Eugene Arnold, MD, MEd L Eugene Arnold, MD, MEd
Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University