Substantial revisions to the DSM-IV criteria for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) have been proposed in efforts to increase diagnostic sensitivity and specificity. This study evaluated the proposed DSM-5 criteria for the single diagnostic category of autism spectrum disorder in children with DSM-IV diagnoses of pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) and non-PDD diagnoses.
Three data sets included 4,453 children with DSM-IV clinical PDD diagnoses and 690 with non-PDD diagnoses (e.g., language disorder). Items from a parent report measure of ASD symptoms (Autism Diagnostic Interview–Revised) and clinical observation instrument (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule) were matched to DSM-5 criteria and used to evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of the proposed DSM-5 criteria and current DSM-IV criteria when compared with clinical diagnoses.
Based on just parent data, the proposed DSM-5 criteria identified 91% of children with clinical DSM-IV PDD diagnoses. Sensitivity remained high in specific subgroups, including girls and children under 4. The specificity of DSM-5 ASD was 0.53 overall, while the specificity of DSM-IV ranged from 0.24, for clinically diagnosed PDD not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), to 0.53, for autistic disorder. When data were required from both parent and clinical observation, the specificity of the DSM-5 criteria increased to 0.63.
These results suggest that most children with DSM-IV PDD diagnoses would remain eligible for an ASD diagnosis under the proposed DSM-5 criteria. Compared with the DSM-IV criteria for Asperger’s disorder and PDD-NOS, the DSM-5 ASD criteria have greater specificity, particularly when abnormalities are evident from both parents and clinical observation.