Deconstructing diagnosis: multi-disciplinary perspectives on a diagnostic tool

Damian Milton, Steven Kapp, Virginia Bovell, Sami Timimi, Ginny Russell


Diagnostic assessment tools are widely used instruments in research and clinical practice to assess and evaluate autism symptoms for both children and adults. These tools typically involve observing the child or adult under assessment, and rating their behaviour for signs or so-called symptoms of autism.

In order to examine how autism diagnosis is constructed, how diagnostic tools are positioned, and how their trainings are delivered, we paid for four places on a training course for a diagnostic tool. We asked the attendees (the first four authors) to each produce a critical commentary about their impressions of the training and the diagnostic tool itself. Their commentaries are published here in full.  They have various disciplinary backgrounds: one is a social scientist, one an ethicist, one a psychiatrist, and one a developmental psychologist.

The commentaries are followed by a concluding section that summarises the themes, commonalities, and differences between their accounts of the training course. Authors differed as to whether the diagnostic tool is a useful and necessary endeavour. Nevertheless, all critiqued of the tool’s lack of transparency, recognizing context, emotion, and differences in interpretation and power imbalances as playing an unidentified role in the assessment process. Based on this project, we recommend that training for raters for such tools should be accessible to a wider group of people, and incorporate more explicit recognition of its own limitations and commercialisation.


Autism, diagnosis, assessment, ADOS


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