The origins of the Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders (DISCO) date back to the 1970s when Lorna Wing and Judith Gould were engaged in research into the epidemiology of autism.
When they started their study no detailed diagnostic interview schedules for autism were available. There were some checklists of autistic features but these did not provide the depth of information about each individual child that the study required.
On the basis of some years of clinical work and personal experience of being a parent of a young daughter with Kanner's syndrome, Lorna Wing designed the Handicaps Behaviour and Skills schedule (HBS) which was the precursor of the DISCO.
From the results of this epidemiological study, Wing and Gould developed the concept of a spectrum of autistic conditions. This was much wider that the syndrome originally named by Leo Kanner in 1943. It included the pattern of behaviour described by Hans Asperger in 1944 and a range of other clinical pictures that did not fit either of these named syndromes. What held all these clinical pictures together was a triad of impairments affecting social interaction, social communication and social imagination, which was associated with a stereotyped repetitive pattern of behaviour.
In 1991 Wing and Gould, together with Carole Murray, set up the Centre for Social and Communication Disorders. It soon became clear that the HBS, which was designed for research with children, was not detailed enough for the clinical diagnostic work of the centre that was concerned with diagnosis of people of all ages. The team expanded the areas covered by the HBS to include sections on infancy, developmental domains, the triad of impairments, repetitive routines, emotional difficulties and challenging behaviour. The HBS schedule was renamed the Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders (DISCO). It was adapted to cover all ages, all levels of ability and conditions on the borderlines of autism. Thanks to the fundraising efforts of Lady Astor of Hever, author of Loving Olivia, the first DISCO manual was able to be printed.
From the experience of training professionals to use the DISCO, it became clear that a separate section for recording clinical judgement was necessary. This had to be based on all the information obtained from the rest of the schedule, psychological assessment, observation and any other sources of reliable information. This DISCO section asks the interviewer to make a judgement concerning the quality of the social interaction, social communication, social imagination and pattern of activities. To do this it is essential for the interviewer to have adequate clinical experience in the field.