Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Diagnosis Graphic

Before our awesome doctoral student assessor explained the autism spectrum to us, I thought that autism was a linear spectrum with Asperger's at the mild end and varying degrees of full autism on the more severe end.

Not that simple, it turns out. See, to put it simply, there are three components to autism: impairment of social interaction, impairment of communication skills, and obsessive behaviors or interests. To be diagnosed with full autism, a person must display all three characteristics.

Here's where it gets complicated, if a person displays a certain two of those three (impairment of social interaction and obsessive behaviors/interests), he/she has Asperger's. But if a person displays either of the other two possible combinations, the diagnosis is Pervasive Developmental Delay-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Basically, one set got a name, the other two didn't.

Z's diagnosis is one of those "other two." He has delayed communication skills and delayed social skills, but (as far as is evident at this point) no obsessive behaviors/interests. That last part was tricky. He sometimes lines things up, but only maybe 1-2 times a week. He's pretty interested in letters (and is already beginning to read), but he can take them or leave them, if he has to. Any of the little things that might possibly constitute a mild obsessive interest do not interfere with daily life, so they don't count. And that's a good thing. He definitely doesn't have the spinning, hand-flapping type of obsessive behavior, so that one was easier to set aside.

To help friends and family understand Z's diagnosis, we created a graphic based on the explanation above given to us by the assessor. I actually drew out the graphic for my in-laws when we went to pick the kids up after going over the diagnosis with the assessor. It was how I had pictured it in my head as she explained it. ML, though, is the graphic artist in the family, so he worked it up afterwards to include in an e-mail we sent out.

For those who are more visual:


  1. That was very interesting, Cara. I thought of autism the same way you did... as a straight line. Thanks for educating me.

    Prayers as you sort all of this out with Z.

  2. Wow, I didn't know this either. It makes much more sense, though. Thank you for sharing it. I'll be praying for you all on this journey.