This year’s World Autism Day comes on the heels of changes made in the newly published Diagnostic Statistical Manual-Fifth Edition-Text Revision (DSM-5-TR), to clarify, amongst other things , that “persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following: deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, and in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships” are all integral to the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders.
The use of the puzzle piece has been heavily criticised within as reinforcing negative views of people on the spectrum . These negative views of Autism Spectrum Disorders are often driven by the curative approach to Autism Spectrum Disorders , rather than focusing on increasing strengths for people who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders. This is historically linked with the biomedical model which focuses on ameliorating disease then psychosocial adjustment.
For many psychologists, our role is usually early in the life cycle of treatment often being that of diagnoses. However, psychologists can, and should have a role beyond the diagnostic stage, fundamentally in assisting parents adjust to ways in which they could assist their children who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders. This moves away from only focusing on diagnosis towards equipping parents with ways that enhance child’s skills, removes the focus on the child towards their social environment. In addition, focusing on naturing the skills of the child, rather than the curative approach that has dominated Autism Spectrum Disorder treatment.
Beyond the parental assistance and the focus on strengths for people on the spectrum, there is much misinformation about Autism Spectrum Disorders especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, with a rise in the anti-vax movements having sparked renewed anti-vax movements linked to autism. Psychologists are well positioned to mitigate the spread of misinformation and even falsehoods about the vaccines and Autism Spectrum Disorders.
On this world Autism Awareness Day, it is important that psychologists rise to the challenge of tackling misinformation that continues to cause harm to families and people on the spectrum, including the deficit discourses around people on the spectrum. The role of psychologists should be taken outside the therapy rooms to influence policy about how best to offer treatment for people on the Autism Spectrum Disorders.