What are the Different Types of Autism?

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  • Written By: Lindsay Kahl
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2018
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Autism spectrum disorders can affect language development, social interaction and behavior. There are three different conditions commonly considered to be autism spectrum disorders. These types of autism include autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). People with autism exhibit a wide range of symptoms and behaviors with varying severity, which is why clinicians use the term “spectrum” in association with the diagnoses. All types of autism have certain features in common.

The most common of the three types of autism, autistic disorder, also is referred to as “classic” autism. Individuals with autistic disorder might exhibit signs indicating a social delay or communication issue. They might have poor eye contact or avoid interacting with others. A person with autistic disorder might seem unable to exhibit empathy for others and might refuse physical contact. He or she could have difficulty engaging in typical conversation and sometimes exhibits strange speech patterns or tones.

Another common sign of autistic disorder is the presence of repetitive behaviors or routines. A person who has autistic disorder might engage in stereotypical behavior such as flapping his or her hands or rocking back and forth. In some cases, a person with autistic disorder has difficulty dealing with disruptions in routine.


Asperger syndrome is commonly viewed as a high functioning type of autism. Many people with Asperger syndrome have significant difficulty with interactions in social settings. These individuals often have trouble reading social cues or facial expressions, and they might interpret language literally or fail to recognize humor. This can lead to misunderstandings in personal relationships.

Many people with Asperger syndrome pursue specific interests with intensity. An individual might become engrossed and quite well-informed about a very narrow topic, sometimes to the exclusion of other interests. Often, this topic dominates any conversation, leading to even more difficulty with social interaction. People with Asperger syndrome often are highly intelligent and verbal. They might exhibit an extensive vocabulary, even at a young age.

The diagnosis of Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified is given to individuals who display symptoms of autism but do not meet the diagnostic criteria for autistic disorder or Asperger syndrome. It sometimes is referred to as atypical autism. It is similar to autistic disorder, but the symptoms often are more mild.

There is help available for individuals with all types of autism. Professionals recommend early and intensive treatment for the best long-term outlook. Most treatment plans involve educational and behavioral intervention, such as applied behavior analysis.



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