Types of Autism — Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Autism is an umbrella term for a whole range of neurodevelopmental disorders that manifest in difficulties with social interaction, obsessive and repetitive behavioral patterns, and trouble speaking and communicating. Naturally, since autism covers such a wide spectrum of problems, most symptoms can fall anywhere on the scale from mild to severe and finally even crippling, which is also why diagnosis and treatment are often tricky.

Luckily, some approaches, such as the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) treatment, can be more than beneficial for most patients starting, no matter where on the spectrum they fall. If you are interested in giving it a shot, get informed today and try it at your own pace. In the meanwhile, allow us to explain the different types of autism in adults and children alike and walk you through some of the most common symptoms you should not neglect.

The Autism Spectrum — Five Main Categories

In popular discourse, we typically break autism down into five categories, although the terminology we use might not always be in line with the latest scientific trends. To understand autism better, you should have at least a basic idea of what each of the categories people talk about is like, what its characteristics and symptoms are, and how prevalent it is. So, what are the 5 different types of autism?

1. Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s Syndrome is what we hear people discuss most often, even though the term has been out of date for almost a decade now (Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder is a more appropriate term). What characterizes this disorder is high intelligence coupled with great verbal skills but sadly accompanied by a lack of social interaction skills. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Unwillingness to change one’s behavior patterns and opinions
  • Difficulties letting go of already undertaken projects or undergone tasks
  • Inability to express feelings or desires
  • Troubles fitting in with peers or family members

Asperger’s patients are often said to have high-functioning autism because they usually show no signs of intellectual disabilities. That is also why Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) treatments are usually the number one choice — they prioritize teaching adaptive behaviors and minimizing the risk of self-harm by encouraging positive and negative reinforcement methods. Most people show significant signs of improvement after intervention therapy, and since many of them are gifted with exceptional intelligence and an interest in certain fields, they can even lead successful, independent lives.

2. Rett Syndrome

Rett Syndrome is an extremely rare disorder that typically manifests itself in infancy. Many of its symptoms resemble those of Asperger’s Syndrome, but it is actually the consensus now that this is a genetic disorder. Thus, most experts will not include Rett syndrome patients among those on the spectrum. However, since the symptoms are so similar, many people still approach Rett patients as if they would those diagnosed with something like Asperger’s. The symptoms usually include:

  • Poor coordination
  • Difficulties speaking and expressing one’s thoughts and desires
  • Respiratory problems

A rather curious fact about Rett Syndrome is that it most often affects infant girls during their first year. Also, in addition to the symptoms mentioned above, those diagnosed with Rett Syndrome may experience seizures and muscle spasms, as well as show signs of intellectual disabilities. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Rett Syndrome. However, it can be managed with anxiety medications as well as physical and speech therapy.

3. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD) or Heller’s Syndrome

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, also known as simply CDD or Heller’s Syndrome, is a type of neurodevelopmental disorder most typically diagnosed in children (usually boys) ages 3–10 and characterized by an obvious lack of communicative skills and impaired language acquisition. Other symptoms include poor motor functions and loss of toileting skills.

The most obvious sign of CDD is that children usually first develop all the necessary skills before losing them. This regression can be sudden and rather rapid, and the causes are still unknown. In some cases, children diagnosed with CDD report that something is awry, meaning that the disorder onset is sometimes quite traumatic.

The causes of CDD are a matter of dispute, but it is generally agreed that it is a result of a genetic abnormality affecting the nervous system. The treatment usually consists of behavioral and communication therapy.

4. Kanner’s Syndrome

Kanner’s Syndrome is what we typically call the classic autistic disorder. Those diagnosed with it will often appear healthy, intelligent, and cooperative, although certain symptoms easily betray an underlying problem. They include:

  • Problems forming bonds and emotional relationships with others
  • Uncontrollable speech problems
  • Obsessive behavior and handling of objects
  • Learning difficulties in areas excluding rote memorization and visuospatial skills

The causes of Kanner’s Syndrome are a matter of debate, but some theorize that environmental factors coupled with metabolic disorders might be the main culprit. Once again, the treatment consists largely of behavioral therapy, which often includes group and immersion programs.

5. Pervasive Developmental Disorder — Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

Pervasive Developmental Disorder — Not Otherwise Specified, or PDD-NOS for short, is a rather mild form of autism with a wide range of potential symptoms. Those diagnosed with this disorder usually do not fall within any other category we described precisely, hence the name. As is often the case, the symptoms typically manifest in difficulties with social interaction, impaired speech, and obsessive-compulsive behavior.

PDD-NOS is another type of autism that mainly affects boys. However, diagnosis and classification are often made difficult since most patients tend to display various symptoms whose ultimate root cannot be easily pinpointed. Most experts now believe that the main cause of  PDD-NOS is some kind of problem with neural pathways in the brain.

ABA therapy for adults and children alike is often the first step towards managing PDD-NOS, but different kinds of medications play a significant role, too, more often than not, typically in order to stabilize the patient’s mood.

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