Are there different types of autism?

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The term “autism” refers to a broad range of neurodevelopmental disorders. Autism spectrum disorders can be mild or severe, and the symptoms can include social, behavioral or communication issues and challenges.


Today, it’s not as common to hear the kinds of autism categorized, and some commonly used terms – like Asperger’s Syndrome – are no longer used by medical professionals. Many experts used to talk about the different “types” of autism, which we’ll discuss below, but typically, all of them are simply referred to as autism spectrum disorders.


Asperger’s Syndrome


Asperger’s Syndrome is no longer used as a medical term, and has been reclassified as a Level 1 autism spectrum disorder in the DSM-5 diagnostic manual. You’ll probably still hear members of the autism community and their families use the term, though, more than using the official classification of Level 1.


When a child has this type of autism spectrum disorder, they typically display strong verbal skills and above-average intelligence. Where they’re challenged is in social interaction and communication. They may have a hard time switching between activities, especially if they’re enjoying what they’re currently doing; they might not be very flexible thinkers or doers (meaning that when they’ve decided something, it’s very difficulty to change their minds!) They may have executive functioning issues, and don’t know how to express themselves through words. In terms of making friends, that’s a tough one too.


Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, or CDD


CDD is also known as Heller’s syndrome, or disintegrative psychosis. It’s a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by a delay in motor skills, language, and/or social function, typically after the age of three and right through until the age of 10. Some parents feel “blindsided” by this diagnosis, because their child would have seemed to have been developing typically.


This type of autism spectrum disorder has appeared more often in boys than girls. Kids who are diagnosed with CDD may have known how to speak, how to behave in certain social situations, and would have had strong motor skills. They may even have established good toileting skills. In some circumstances, kids lose some or all of the previously listed skills and will have to relearn them.


Kanner’s Syndrome


Kanner’s Syndrome, named for Leo Kanner of John Hopkins University, was discovered in 1943. Then, Kanner called it “infantile autism,” and today, doctors refer to it as a classic autistic disorder. Kids with this disorder seem alert and intelligent, but they may display certain hallmark symptoms, like the inability to control their speech, an obsession with certain items, communication and emotional challenges, and a lack of personal attachment to other people. Kids with this disorder also seem to have a very high degree of memory, but difficulty learning and retaining subjects in other arenas.


Pervasive Development Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)


PDD-NOS is a mild type of autism. While it has numerous possible symptoms, the most common are challenges in language development and social skills. Kids with PDD-NOS might be delayed in learning how to speak and walk, and their motor skill development may also be affected. In some cases, kids with this disorder are said to have “subthreshold autism,” which some experts use to describe a child who has some, but not all, symptoms of autism.


Rett Syndrome


Rett Syndrome, a very rare neurodevelopmental disorder, is noticed in infancy, and typically affects girls. The most common symptoms include challenges with communication, movement and coordination, as well as breathing difficulties.

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