Understanding the 5 Types of Autism

June 22, 2017

Do you suspect your child could have autism? Knowing the 5 types of autism can help with early detection and intervention.

If your child seems to have difficulty interacting and communicating with others, or doesn't seem to meet her developmental milestones on time, you might wonder if she could have autism. The truth is, five types of autism exist, and they do not always look the same from child to child. Many parents worry that if their child has autism it means that she will no longer have a productive, successful life.

This couldn't be farther from the truth, says Rachel Evans, author of the email newsletter "Essential Guide to Autism." An autism diagnosis should never be thought of as a guarantee for a less fortunate life, she stresses, adding that the right instruction can ensure that your autistic child stays on a productive path.

Years ago, not a lot was known about autism, explains Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh, author of "Evidence-Based Treatment for Children with Autism" and founder of The Center for Autism and Related Disorders. "When I started working with children with autism, it was such a low incidence type of disorder that nobody really knew what autism was," says Dr. Granpeesheh, "We now believe that autism affects one in 110 kids."

With more and more children receiving an autism diagnosis, researchers are working hard to find innovative ways to help these kids live full, enjoyable lives. The first step to getting this help is identifying which type of autism a child has.

Types of Autism

  1. Asperger's Syndrome
    Children with Asperger's Syndrome tend to struggle to understand and interpret social cues, develop intense, often obsessive interests in one or two subjects and often display a higher-than-average and even gifted intelligence. Although children with Asperger's can suffer from sensory integration difficulties, like sensitivity to tags on shirts or seams on socks, they do not usually have delayed speech. In fact, many children with Asperger's Syndrome have an advanced vocabulary for their age.

    Due to its subjective nature, some children with Asperger's Syndrome receive an initial misdiagnosis because other conditions resemble it, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder. Parents can help children with Asperger's Syndrome by locating social skills classes, taking part in behavioral modification for any obsessive tendencies, possibly altering diet to remove preservatives, gluten, artificial sugars and food coloring, and looking into differentiated curriculum for advanced learners.
  2. Rett Syndrome
    This type of progressive autism only affects girls and begins to become apparent when they reach about 6 months old. Typical symptoms of Rett Syndrome start with several characteristics found in other forms of autism, including repetitive hand and arm flapping, delayed speech and problems with fine and gross motor skills.

    More severe symptoms start to appear as the child gets older. These can include difficulties breathing, mental retardation, grinding teeth, seizures and growth delays. Girls with Rett Syndrome usually need lifelong care. Treatment includes physical therapy to help increase mobility and straighten limbs, occupational therapy to reduce involuntary movements and to promote self care, speech therapy, diet modification and certain medications to control seizures.
  3. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)
    You may have heard stories of children who seem to develop normally -- meeting all of their milestones -- but then suddenly start regressing around the age of 2. This type of autism -- CDD -- can feel devastating and confusing for parents. Children often show no signs of developmental delays whatsoever, then out of the blue will stop talking, stop making eye contact and often completely lose the ability to socially interact with others. Doctors have seen a connection between this rare form of autism and seizure disorders. Parents can help kids with CDD through early intervention involving behavioral modification, dietary changes, occupational therapy and speech therapy.
  4. Kanner's Syndrome
    Also called Classic Autistic Disorder, children with Kanner's Syndrome usually demonstrate what many people consider the standard behaviors of autism. These include difficulty understanding and communicating with others, limited to no eye contact, hypersensitivity to noises, touch, light and smell and a strong preference for routine.

    Children with this more common type of autism often seem absorbed in their own world and have little to no interested in interacting with the world around them. Children with this form of autism can benefit from a weekly immersion program that incorporates different forms of cognitive and occupational therapies with social skill development.
  5. Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
    This more mild form of autism can cause children to have social or developmental delays, like walking or talking later than most children. Children with PDD-NOS often learn to cope with their developmental and social challenges more easily than children with more severe forms of autism. Like Asperger's Syndrome, children with PDD-NOS can benefit from social skills classes, dietary changes and occupational therapy.

And check out Understanding the Austism Spectrum.

Kelly Sundstrom is an award-winning journalist, author, artist and national special needs spokesperson. As the mother of twice-exceptional children, Sundstrom has been a guest speaker on Grassroots TV (now GrassRoots Community Network) in Aspen, Colorado, and offers her support and advocacy to special needs families all over the country.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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