Types of Autism
- Autistic Disorder
- Asperger’s Syndrome
- Pervasive Development Disorder
You may be one of the millions of people around the world affected by autism, whether you know someone personally affected by the disorder or have realized its impact on people and the world. You may be wondering what autism is and what the three types of autism spectrum disorders are. The information provided in this article can give you all the necessary tools to understand autism and its three different spectrums.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, autism spectrum disorder is defined as a “group of developmental disorders” that “includes a wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability.” Autism can be found in around 1 in 68 people in some shape or form. Those with autism spectrum disorders have these main characteristics:
- Repetitive behaviors and limited interests.
- Symptoms that affect their abilities to function properly in social aspects of life.
- Ongoing social problems that can make it difficult to communicate or interact with others.
- Symptoms that are usually found in the beginning years of life.
Those who are autistic can be impaired only mildly by these symptoms, while some others may be impacted severely. Here is where the three types of spectrum disorders come into play. Each type of spectrum is defined by its varying degrees of symptoms. Next, we will outline the three types of autism spectrum disorders.
Understanding autism spectrum disorders
Autism is not a single disorder, but a spectrum of closely related disorders with a shared core of symptoms. Every individual on the autism spectrum has problems to some degree with social interaction, empathy, communication, and flexible behavior. But the level of disability and the combination of symptoms varies tremendously from person to person. In fact, two kids with the same diagnosis may look very different when it comes to their behaviors and abilities.
If you’re a parent dealing with a child on the autism spectrum, you may hear many different terms including high-functioning autism, atypical autism, autism spectrum disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder. These terms can be confusing, not only because there are so many, but because doctors, therapists, and other parents may use them in dissimilar ways.
Related signs and symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder
While not part of autism’s official diagnostic criteria, children with autism spectrum disorders often suffer from one or more of the following problems:
Sensory problems – Many children with autism spectrum disorders either underreact or overreact to sensory stimuli. At times they may ignore people speaking to them, even to the point of appearing deaf. However, at other times they may be disturbed by even the softest sounds. Sudden noises such as a ringing telephone can be upsetting, and they may respond by covering their ears and making repetitive noises to drown out the offending sound. Children on the autism spectrum also tend to be highly sensitive to touch and to texture. They may cringe at a pat on the back or the feel of certain fabric against their skin.
Emotional difficulties – Children with autism spectrum disorders may have difficulty regulating their emotions or expressing them appropriately. For instance, your child may start to yell, cry, or laugh hysterically for no apparent reason. When stressed, he or she may exhibit disruptive or even aggressive behavior (breaking things, hitting others, or harming him or herself). The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities also notes that kids with ASD may be unfazed by real dangers like moving vehicles or heights, yet be terrified of harmless objects such as a stuffed animal.
Uneven cognitive abilities – ASD occurs at all intelligence levels. However, even kids with normal to high intelligence often have unevenly developed cognitive skills. Not surprisingly, verbal skills tend to be weaker than nonverbal skills. In addition, children with Autism spectrum disorder typically do well on tasks involving immediate memory or visual skills, while tasks involving symbolic or abstract thinking are more difficult.
Getting evaluated for Autism Spectrum Disorder
Parent interview – In the first phase of the diagnostic evaluation, you will give your doctor background information about your child’s medical, developmental, and behavioral history. If you have been keeping a journal or taking notes on anything that’s concerned you, share that information. The doctor will also want to know about your family’s medical and mental health history.
Medical exam – The medical evaluation includes a general physical, a neurological exam, lab tests, and genetic testing. Your child will undergo this full screening to determine the cause of his or her developmental problems and to identify any co-existing conditions.
Hearing test – Since hearing problems can result in social and language delays, they need to be excluded before an Autism Spectrum Disorder can be diagnosed. Your child will undergo a formal audiological assessment where he or she is tested for any hearing impairments, as well as any other hearing issues or sound sensitivities that sometimes co-occur with autism.
Observation – Developmental specialists will observe your child in a variety of settings to look for unusual behavior associated with the Autism Spectrum Disorder. They may watch your child playing or interacting with other people.
Lead screening – Because lead poisoning can cause autistic-like symptoms, the National Center for Environmental Health recommends that all children with developmental delays be screened for lead poisoning.
Depending on your child’s and symptoms and their severity, the diagnostic assessment may also include speech, intelligence, social, sensory processing, and motor skills testing. These tests can be helpful not only in diagnosing autism, but also for determining what type of treatment your child needs:
Speech and language evaluation – A speech pathologist will evaluate your child’s speech and communication abilities for signs of autism, as well as looking for any indicators of specific language impairments or disorders.
Cognitive testing – Your child may be given a standardized intelligence test or an informal cognitive assessment.
Adaptive functioning assessment – Your child may be evaluated for her/his ability to function, problem-solve, and adapt in real-life situations. This may include testing social, nonverbal, and verbal skills, as well as the ability to perform daily tasks such as dressing and feeding him or herself.
Sensory-motor evaluation – Since sensory integration dysfunction often co-occurs with autism, and can even be confused with it, a physical therapist or occupational therapist may assess your child’s fine motor, gross motor, and sensory processing skills.