What Are The Types Of Autism
In the past, doctors diagnosed autism according to four different subtypes of the condition. However, healthcare professionals now classify autism spectrum disorder as one broad category with three different levels to specify the degree of support an autistic person needs.
Before 2013, healthcare professionals defined the four types of autism as:
- childhood disintegrative disorder
- pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified
However, the American Psychiatric Association revised their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013, which did not include these four subtypes of autism. They now all fall under the one umbrella term of ASD.
Keep reading to learn more about how we categorize ASD, including the various levels, and how doctors diagnose the condition.
ASD is now the umbrella term for the group of complex neurodevelopmental disorders that make up autism. It is a condition that affects communication and behavior.
The autism spectrum refers to the variety of potential differences, skills, and levels of ability that are present in autistic people.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , around in the United States are on the autism spectrum.
The differences in autistic people are often present from early childhood and can impact daily functioning.
Autistic people can experience the following challenges:
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, early signs of ASD can
Understanding The Three Levels Of Autism
Steven Gans, MD, is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
There are three levels of autism spectrum disorder , which are described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition .
Each person with ASD is further diagnosed with either ASD level 1, level 2, or level 3, depending on how severe their disorder is and how much support they need in their daily life.
The levels range from least to most severe, with ASD level 3 describing an individual who has the most severe level of ASD symptoms, and ASD level 1 describing someone with symptoms on the milder end of the spectrum.
This article discusses the symptoms that are typical of each of the three ASD levels. It also includes realistic examples of the strengths and limitations that are unique to each level.
Verywell / Cindy Chung
What Is Autistic Disorder
This type of spectrum is known as classic autism. The classic autistic disorder is what people typically think of when they hear the word autism. According to the Autism Support of West Shore, those with this type of spectrum disorder have significant language delays, social and communication challenges, and unusual behaviors and interests. These individuals are usually affected by intellectual disabilities. This type is considered the most severe form of autism. Its also the most common.
People who have autistic disorder may:
- have a hard time accepting touch by other people,
- perform restricted or repetitive behaviors like hand-flapping or fidgeting
- experience sensory overload,
- have issues communicating or limited social skills
Signs of autism may be different in children depending on their age. Young children may begin showing signs of autistic disorder within their first 12 months of life. They may avoid eye contact or fail to return a smile from their mother or father. Older children may find it difficult to communicate how they feel. They may have a hard time making friends or seem unable to understand how others are thinking and feeling.
Research shows that early diagnosis and intervention for autism have long-term positive effects on a childs life. Proper early intervention can help children with an autism diagnosis improve their language and behavioral skills.
Aspergers Syndrome is the mildest form of autism and is closely associated with level one of ASD.
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Repetitive And Restrictive Behaviour
With its unwritten rules, the world can seem a very unpredictable and confusing place to autistic people. This is why they often prefer to have routines so that they know what is going to happen. They may want to travel the same way to and from school or work, wear the same clothes or eat exactly the same food for breakfast.
Autistic people may also repeat movements such as hand flapping, rocking or the repetitive use of an object such as twirling a pen or opening and closing a door. Autistic people often engage in these behaviours to help calm themselves when they are stressed or anxious, but many autistic people do it because they find it enjoyable.
Change to routine can also be very distressing for autistic people and make them very anxious. It could be having to adjust to big events like Christmas or changing schools, facing uncertainty at work, or something simpler like a bus detour that can trigger their anxiety.
Read more about repetitive behaviours and dealing with change here
Diagnosis Of Autism In Children
Autism in children is diagnosed through observation by a multidisciplinary team of the following health professionals:
- psychologist or psychiatrist
- speech pathologist.
Some children will show signs of autism by the age of two and will be diagnosed then. Other may be diagnosed when they are older. The earlier autism can be diagnosed the sooner therapy can begin. Early intervention has been shown to improve outcomes for autistic children.
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What Are The Indicators Of Asd
The main characteristics related to ASD fall into 2 broad areas:
- difficulty with social interactions and communication
- restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests
The common signs and traits of ASD in children include the following:
- lack of social or emotional exchanges like pointing, smiling, showing you things
- lack of non-verbal communication such as nodding and shaking head, using hand gestures
- difficulty developing and maintaining relationships appropriate to their age, such as peer play, lack of close friends
- delayed expressed speech and understanding of speech
- lack of eye contact when speaking
- loss of language skills at any age
- excessively following routines, patterns or behaviour, and becoming distressed at changes
- stereotyped or repetitive speech
- using objects in unusual ways, such as rolling wheels before eyes
- movements, such as flapping hands, toe walking
- strongly reacting to sensory input such as sound, pain or textures
- restricted or fixated interests. This might be only playing with certain toys or talking about certain topics
- having difficulty managing emotions, such as frequent and long tantrums
In adults, ASD traits may include the following:
- struggling with time management
- your cultural or social surroundings
The Importance Of Early Diagnosis
As stated previously, most individuals are diagnosed with ASD as children, yet many still do not get diagnosed until later in life for various reasons. ASD must be diagnosed early on so that interventions can begin.
The CDC states the following and lists the steps in the process of screening and diagnosing ASD:
Monitoring, screening, evaluating, and diagnosing children with ASD as early as possible is important to make sure children receive the services and support they need to reach their full potential.
- Developmental monitoring
- Comprehensive developmental evaluation
For more details, review the CDCs Fact Sheet on Developmental Monitoring and Screening.
As an adult, there is no technical diagnostic test for ASD, but a clinician can help with the diagnostic process. If you believe you may have ASD, contact your physician to discuss what you need to do to get an official diagnosis. And if you feel you have ASD but dont want a diagnosis, that is completely okay too. Whatever you feel needs to happen for you to be happy and successful in life is what matters the most.
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How Are Autism And Adhd Related
ASD can be a stand-alone disorder, or it may coexist with other disorders. One study found that children with ADHD are up to 20 times more likely to exhibit some signs of ASD than are their neurotypical peers1. Autism is generally characterized by social and communication difficulties, and by repetitive behaviors. ADHD is marked by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, though social challenges are often part of the ADHD equation as well.
To differentiate ADHD from ASD, many clinicians work to determine whether weak social skills derive from an executive-function impairment or from a broken or missing developmental building block. For example, is a child having difficulty taking turns because he simply wants to play next, or because he doesnt grasp the nature of the game?
Its important to separate difficulties that mimic autism from actual symptoms. Early detection and treatment of the correct condition are crucial. A professional who is familiar with ASD, ADHD, and other similar neurological conditions can use clinical skill and experience to find the true source of a patients challenges.
1 Dennis Thompson. More Links Seen Between Autism, ADHD. HealthDay. . Web.
Autism Is Not An Illness
Being autistic does not mean you have an illness or disease. It means your brain works in a different way from other people.
It’s something you’re born with or first appears when you’re very young.
If you’re autistic, you’re autistic your whole life.
Autism is not a medical condition with treatments or a “cure”. But some people need support to help them with certain things.
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What Are The Three Types Of Autism Spectrum Disorders
Just like there is more than one type of anxiety disorder, diabetes, or developmental disorder, there are different types of autism. In anxiety, for example, there are five completely separate types, each with its own symptoms. Some types of anxiety are unique and other types share similar symptoms on a spectrum. So just how many types of autism are there? Autism Spectrum Disorder is considered the broad term for autism, but three separate sub-types fit within the ASD category.
When you think about a spectrum, think of seeing different shades of blue all together in one band. All of the shades are technically blue, but they range from lightest to darkest. You can also think of a rating scale with two extremes or opposite points. The term autism spectrum disorder should be viewed similarly there is a spectrum of symptoms that someone with autism can exhibit, ranging from mild to severe.
You may be one of the millions of people around the world affected by autism. You might know someone personally affected by the disorder or realize its impact on people and the world. Either way, you should educate yourself on autism and the three types of autism spectrum disorder. Youll have a better understanding of the types of autism, which can help you interact and communicate more effectively with individuals with different types of autism.
The information we provide in this article gives you all the necessary tools to understand the levels of autism.
What Causes Autism Spectrum Disorder
There is no clear-cut cause of ASD. Some causes that are supported by research include genetic and some environmental factors. Specific genetic causes can only be identified in 10% to 20% of cases. These cases include specific genetic syndromes associated with ASD and rare changes in the genetic code.
Risk factors include older parental age, low birth weight, prematurity and maternal use of valproic acid or thalidomide during pregnancy, among others. This field of study is an active one for research.
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Related Signs And Symptoms Of Autism Spectrum Disorder
While not part of autisms 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, they may exhibit disruptive or even aggressive behavior . 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.
Savant skills in autism spectrum disorder
Other Terminology You May Have Heard For Types Of Autism
Terms like mild or high functioning arent official diagnoses. Some people find these terms useful, but many in the autistic community havent found them to be helpful or accurate, largely due to the range of abilities that can be present in an autistic person.
You may also have heard about three levels of autism, with level 1 being the mildest and level 3 the most severe.
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Treatment Of Autism Spectrum Disorders
Applied behavior analysis
Speech and language therapy
Sometimes drug therapy
Applied behavior analysis is an approach to therapy in which children are taught specific cognitive, social, or behavioral skills in a stepwise fashion. Small improvements are reinforced and progressively built upon to improve, change, or develop specific behaviors in children who have an ASD. These behaviors include social skills, language and communication skills, reading, and academics as well as learned skills such as self-care , daily-living skills, punctuality, and job competence. This therapy is also used to help children minimize behaviors that may interfere with their progress. Applied behavior analysis therapy is tailored to meet the needs of each child and is typically designed and supervised by professionals certified in behavior analysis. In the United States, ABA may be available as part of an Individualized Educational Plan through schools and in some states is covered by health insurance. Another intensive behaviorally based intervention is the Developmental, Individual-differences, and Relationship-based model, also called Floortime. DIRÂ® draws on the child’s interests and preferred activities to help build social interaction skills and other skills. At present, there is less evidence to support DIRFloortimeÂ® than ABA, but both therapies can be effective.
Diagnosis Of Autism Spectrum Disorders
Early signs of this disorder can be noticed by parents/caregivers or pediatricians before a child reaches one year of age. However, symptoms typically become more consistently visible by the time a child is 2 or 3 years old. In some cases, the functional impairment related to autism may be mild and not apparent until the child starts school, after which their deficits may be pronounced when amongst their peers.
Social communication deficits may include1:
- Difficulty appreciating their own & others’ emotions
- Aversion to maintaining eye contact
- Lack of proficiency with use of non-verbal gestures
- Stilted or scripted speech
- Difficulty making friends or keeping them
Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors may include1:
- Inflexibility of behavior, extreme difficulty coping with change
- Being overly focused on niche subjects to the exclusion of others
- Expecting others to be equally interested in those subjects
- Difficulty tolerating changes in routine and new experiences
- Sensory hypersensitivity, e.g., aversion to loud noises
- Stereotypical movements such as hand flapping, rocking, spinning
- Arranging things, often toys, in a very particular manner
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Clinical Development And Diagnoses
Leo Kannerearly infantile autism
Autism as it is known today can be drawn back to the late 1930s, when two separate psychiatrists – Hans Asperger of the Vienna University Hospital and Leo Kanner of the Johns Hopkins Hospital – used the word autism to describe the patients they were studying in their own clinical research. The word autism first took its modern sense in German, when Asperger adopted Bleuler’s terminology autistic psychopaths in a 1938 lecture in German about child psychology. Asperger was investigating an ASD which was later known as Asperger syndrome, although it did not become widely recognized as a separate diagnosis until 1981. In English, Kanner first used autism in its modern sense when he introduced the label early infantile autism in a 1943 report of 11 children with striking behavioral similarities. Almost all the characteristics described in Kanner’s first paper on the subject, notably “autistic aloneness” and “insistence on sameness”, are still regarded as typical of the autistic spectrum of disorders. It is not known whether Kanner derived the term independently of Asperger.
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 youre 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.
But no matter what doctors, teachers, and other specialists call the autism spectrum disorder, its your childs unique needs that are truly important. No diagnostic label can tell you exactly what challenges your child will have. Finding treatment that addresses your childs needs, rather than focusing on what to call the problem, is the most helpful thing you can do. You dont need a diagnosis to start getting help for your childs symptoms.
Whats in a name?
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