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Please note, some of our older posts like this one may not reflect the latest terminology and diagnostic guidelines – click here to read them in our blog on autism diagnostic criteria!

Autism is confusingly diagnosed and labelled…”

Whilst we aim to be positive here at, there’s so much that’s frustrating about the state of autism diagnosis, currently! (At the time of writing in June 2018). Or rather, there are inconsistencies and misunderstandings, as well as disparities, in terms of different clinicians, authorities, countries and territories, and their protocols. It’s no wonder that people new to the world of autism information are left feeling confused.

ICD-10 / 11 – UK

For example – a national (UK) training body offering a nationally-recognised autism qualification confidently (and incorrectly) maintains (at the time of writing in June 2018) that the three main autism diagnoses are ‘severe’, ‘high functioning,’ and ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’. These autism ‘functioning labels’ are in fact no longer used.

Meanwhile, up until summer 2018 (when the new draft version arrived), the 2016 version of the ICD-10, (ICD being short for: ‘International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Health Related Problems’, a commonly-used diagnostic manual), listed Childhood Autism, Autistic Disorder, Atypical Autism, Asperger Syndrome, as well as the clumsy ‘Pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified’, as the main autistic categories.

(NOW, with the launch of the latest ICD-11 in summer 2018 (draft), only Autism is stated, with varying sub-descriptions – see graphic.)

Meanwhile within the DSM5 diagnostic manual, clinicians are advised to also use the broad term Autism but with a numerical note of severity, and / or the additions of ‘With or without accompanying intellectual / language impairment.’



To further confuse things for those individuals diagnosed as autistic BEFORE the functioning labels were abandoned, there was seemingly very little diagnostic difference between High Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger Syndrome. The differentiating factor was whether or not developmental and language delays were seen in infancy, but in all honestly, that’s surely often subjective, based on familial memories?

In any case, someone diagnosed with the (now outdated) ‘HFA’ doesn’t necessarily accept that they are similar in diagnosis to Asperger’s, and vice versa, perhaps due to how the diagnosing clinician or explained made their diagnosis.

Functioning labels

Another confusing element is the continued use in conversation of the OLD functioning labels, (mild, severe, high functioning, low functioning), which DSM-5 and ICD-11-using clinicians now omit, but that many people still use conversationally (as do, as discussed, some training providers of autism courses / qualifications).

All in all, it is an extremely confusing situation – but perhaps with the UK’s recent publishing of the current (draft) version of ICD-11, everything will become clearer?

A little disclaimer – here at we don’t claim to be experts about Autism; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences.

If you fancy some more ‘ranty’ content, you may also like –
Autism’s dated Triad’ and  ‘Them V Us – disparity in the autism spectrum condition ranks.’

Also published on Medium.