Are There Different Types Of Autism?

The term Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is now used as an umbrella term for disorders that were previously diagnosed separately. The term “spectrum" is used because individuals diagnosed with ASD show a range of behaviours and symptoms, ranging from mild to severe across various areas. Depending on the types and intensity of symptoms, they require varying degrees of support and intervention. 

 Signs and Symptoms of ASD :

Across the spectrum, the most commonly seen challenges are difficulty in social interaction, communication and behaviour. A diagnosis for ASD can be made by the age of two, although the signs and symptoms of autism start showing in children much before. Individuals with Autism view the world differently and have trouble understanding others and being understood.  Some of the commonly seen symptoms are

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Hyper or hyposensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as sounds or sights.
  • Trouble adjusting to changes in routine
  • Preferring to play alone
  • Having a narrow range of interests or unusual interests in certain things

You can read more about recognizing autism, in our earlier post here

Formerly used terminology and classification:

Up until 2013, these disorders were classified separately based on their traits and severity of symptoms. These include

  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Classic Autistic Disorder
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

Although these terms are now outdated and no longer used as an official diagnosis, they might be used and referred to in medical conversations. The term ASD is now universally used but it helps to be familiar with the terms previously used for the different disorders that come under this term. Until recently, these were considered separate conditions, but experts now believe they all fall under one common diagnosis.  

1. Asperger’s Syndrome: Formerly diagnosed as a separate condition, Asperger’s now comes under ASD. Individuals with Asperger’s show particularly poor social and communication skills but often possess fairly good language skills. Their biggest challenge would be reading social cues, therefore they would seem odd or awkward in social situations. Asperger's Syndrome was found to be more prevalent among boys than girls with most symptoms appearing in the first year of life. Common traits that were seen with those with Asperger's’ were a narrow scope of interests, like being interested in one particular topic or area of interest. They also showed restrictive and repetitive interests (usually activities that include counting, listing). Although they showed good verbal skills, they also seemed to interpret everything literally, so a joke or exaggeration would cause them distress or anxiety. Even though they find communication challenging, most do not show a speech delay and in some cases could have an advanced vocabulary. Because they possess average or above-average intelligence they are also sometimes referred to as having High Functioning Autism. 

2. Classic Autistic Disorder: this is also referred to as Kanner’s Syndrome. These individuals possess all the typical traits we think of when we refer to people with autism. These would mainly be problems in communication, poor social skills and behaviour. They show poor eye contact, prefer to be alone, aren’t interested in socializing with people around them, might be hyper or hypo sensitive to sensory stimuli in their environment. They also have a strong attachment to routine and show restricted and repetitive movements. Small changes in routine might upset them greatly and they often seem to be lost in a world of their own.

3. Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD NOS): This referred to children with mild autism, mostly showing developmental delays such as delays in walking or talking, much beyond the expected age. It was also termed as Atypical Autism as the diagnosis was given when a child showed a developmental disorder but did not meet the criteria for Asperger’s, Classic Autism or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. 

 4. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder: As the term suggests, this diagnosis was used when children who showed typical development for the first year or two of life, suddenly began to regress rapidly. Children with Childhood Disintegrative Disorder would have hit most if not all the social, speech, behaviour milestones at the appropriate age for the first few years and then show either a rapid decline mostly in the same areas of development. 

Change in Terminology

With the old terminology, there weren’t very clear divisions between the various disorders and this led to a lot of confusion. With autism, the range and severity of symptoms are so wide, that it is difficult to exactly divide these into watertight categories as the differences between two different kinds of diagnosis might be quite blurred or overlapping. Using one umbrella term clears a lot of this confusion and instead focuses on the individual’s particular traits and challenges that need attention.

Getting a diagnosis of ASD for your child can make you feel uncertain and worried about their future. Truth is, there is plenty of help available to guide you and your family in navigating this diagnosis. Early intervention is very important as it can help you support your child better without letting their challenges overshadow their progress. This will help them build the skills they need and help you as a parent to understand them and their world better. 

If you have a child on the spectrum and need support, help and guidance, we are here for you. Reach out to us at Tactopus.


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