I read on Twitter that

It is documented in the DSM that Autistic traits may only emerge when “social demands exceed capacity”

A quick search revealed that DSM probably stands for "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)", which I am afraid is too large (and specialized: my knowledge of psychology is self-taught, I am not a professional) a volume for me to peruse in search of such a statement (and its scientific basis). I asked the author of the tweet for details but thought I might also ask for scientific references here too:

What scientific evidence (in the DSM or elsewhere) is there that "Autistic traits may only emerge when social demands exceed capacity"?

I think it would be tremendously useful to have a better understanding of how changes in one subject's environment can trigger, at a point in time, some behavior changes to the point to make them cross the (blurry) threshold between "neuro-normality" and "neuro-divergence". As a side-note, I am curious in particular about how changes of environments related to immigration processes could act as such trigger: in the context of a massive increase of migration patterns (due to wars or climate drifts), should one expect a massive increase in the number of occurences of autistic behaviors?


1 Answer 1


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's page on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) contains the following mention (in the section "Specify current severity"):

"Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life)."

This partially answers my own question, but it is more of a "definition" reference than a scientific reference: I was expecting a fixed definition of autism and some statistics about the number of people who were diagnosed late in life following some changes in their environment (but maybe that is more common in social science and unavoidable: it's not like there is an "autism gene", all diagnosis are only based on the observation of behavior patterns).

I am still curious about scientific the correlation with migration events, and anyway this partial answer might be useful to others, so I will keep this question (and my partial answer to my own question) on stack-exchange and let the administrators decide if it needs to be removed or not.


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