What are the “Colors of Autism”?

By Ralph F. Kresge [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Children who have autism have a wide range of ability to speak with people. However, it has been hard to group children by their specific skills and abilities. Now researchers at the CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research at McMaster University, have developed an autism classification system which defines levels of social communication abilities among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The Classification Method

The new classification system will let a child’s care team understand and work to improve the child’s communication abilities with others in everyday life.
Briano Di Rezze, a scientist at CanChild and lead author of the study said, “This is not a test, but more like describing the colors of a rainbow.” The paper was published in May 2016, in the international journal Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology.
Di Rezze went on to further say, “Currently we hear terms like ‘high-functioning’ or ‘low-functioning’ to describe children with ASD. However there is no common interpretation of what those terms mean, which makes them unreliable because clinicians, therapists and parents aren’t always using them in the same way.”

The new system is called the “Autism Classification System of Functioning: Social Communication” or ACSF: SC. It provides a standardized and simplified way for doctors, therapists, teachers and parents to talk about a child’s social communication skills, from the standpoint of what a child can do rather than what they can’t.

The system was made through doing studies with parents and professionals who were able to identify social communications as an important element that could describe children with autism. Led by CanChild, the tool was developed by a team of senior scientists, researchers and clinicians. The parents and teachers across the country then tested the tool out on children with autism.

The people using the assessment tool for preschool children used ‘word pictures,” that described five levels of social communication and determined a child’s ability within two conditions: when they are performing at their best when compared with what they usually do on a normal, daily basis.

The work was paid for through funding of a grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research.
CanChild researchers and their teams in Sweden and the United States have created several functional classifications systems over the past two decades. The first and most commonly known is the Gross Motor Classification System (GM-FCS), for children with cerebral palsy, now used worldwide in more than 40 languages.


The new classification system has the opportunity to become as influential as the GM-FCS, said Dr. Peter Rosenbaum, one of the original developers of the GM-FCS.

He said, “We hope that the ACSF: SC has the same transformative impact in the field of autism as the GM-FCS has been reported to have in the field of cerebral palsy. Its applicability in communication with families and in clinical services, research and policy-making, will be very exciting.”

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