What Are the 5 Types of Autism?

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What Are the Different Autism Types on the Autism Spectrum?

Autism diagnoses are rising across the world and within the United States. Thanks to various diagnostic tools, it is becoming easier than ever to make an autism diagnosis. This is critically important. An early diagnosis can lead to early intervention, treatment, and the creation of a specific care plan. This plan can help an autistic individual lead life to the fullest potential.

However, as much as things are improving within the autism world, there is still a long way to go. This fact is particularly true regarding public understanding of autism and the different autism types that exist. Indeed, most people don’t realize that there are five autism types. These types all have different presentations, diagnosis methods, and proposed treatment plans.

To get the proper treatment, a person with autism needs the correct diagnosis. As such, here is a look at the various autism types.

The 5 Autism Spectrum Disorder Categories

1. Asperger’s Syndrome

Autism types come on a spectrum. At the more functional end of that spectrum is Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s Syndrome comes with symptoms similar to other forms of autism. Primarily, these symptoms include challenges with social skills and communicating with others. Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome are often locked into patterns, behaviors, and thought processes, making it difficult for them to change how they think or behave in a given situation. Indeed, individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome — like other autism types — often lack flexibility in social settings. They may develop a fixation or obsession with a particular hobby or academic area.

One of the central characterizing features of this autism type is that people with Asperger’s Syndrome lack empathy. Individuals with Asperger’s have trouble placing themselves “in the shoes” of another person.

The good news — such as it is — is that people with Asperger’s are often functional in society. They may struggle to interact in social settings or form long-lasting relationships. However, they do not suffer from the same cognitive defects that individuals with other autism types may endure. They also do not struggle as much in academics and usually have no issues with language development. Many famous people have discussed their Asperger’s diagnosis. Most recently, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that he has Asperger’s.

Treatment for individuals with Asperger’s usually addresses physical, communicative, and cognitive defects. It involves breaking repetitive thought patterns and increasing flexibility. This approach encourages individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome to develop more varied interests. Appropriate therapy will also teach them social skills, including ways to improve interactions with others.

As with all autism types, the earlier the intervention can occur, the better chance a child has of leading a life with minimal disruptions. 

2. Rett Syndrome

Rett Syndrome is the second autism disorder. It is one of the autism types known for specific physical and cognitive deficits. From a cognitive perspective, Rett Syndrome slows brain development. It only occurs after an individual shows signs of normal early growth. It will result in an intellectual disability that will make it difficult for a person with Rett Syndrome to function in public settings.

Rett Syndrome has various telltale symptoms. Chief among them is a loss of functionality in one’s hands. A child who suffers from Rett Syndrome may lose the ability to use their hands properly. They may struggle to grasp or touch things, and their hand movement will show repeated movements, such as grasping or wringing. They may also suffer from speech regression and lose their ability to talk. Balance and coordination problems are also prominent. In some cases, people who have this disorder may lose the ability to walk.

Rett Syndrome is the only autism type almost exclusively found in girls. Most other autism types are more common in boys. Boys are four times more likely to have an autism diagnosis. As with all other autism types, early intervention is key for the best treatment approach.
Comprehensive treatment is required. It may include:

  • Physical therapy to improve coordination and balance. Hydrotherapy has also become more popular for individuals with Rett Syndrome. In some cases, surgery or medication may be required.
  • Occupational therapy to improve the use of the hands.
  • Speech-language therapy to improve expression, speech, and the ability to interact with others.
  • Medication to control seizures, reduce pain, improve breathing, and reduce anxiety.

3. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder 

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD) is another autism type. It is also known as Heller’s Syndrome. Like someone with Rett Syndrome, a child with CDD may start their early development period relatively normally. Then, they may begin to show symptoms of Childhood Disintegrative Disorder around the age of 3 or 4. Although more research is needed around this disorder, it is believed to originate from the biology of the brain. EEG readings in children with Childhood Disintegrative Disorder show abnormal results.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder is particularly frightening because of its presentation. After a normal period of development, a child will revert on many fronts, including cognitive development, social skills, and play skills. A child will also lose motor skills, the ability to control their bladder, and more. These reversals can happen over mere days or weeks.

The child who endures these challenges will often experience and display intense anxiety. They may also have night terrors, adding to the stress of their loved ones. The condition is characterized by extreme intellectual and physical disabilities. Children who suffer from Childhood Disintegrative Disorder are likely to be aggressive and may engage in self-injury.

Like most other autism types, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder has several levels. Some children will maintain aspects of their learned skills. Others will show total regression. Thankfully, this autism type is very rare, striking only 1.7 out of 100,000 children. Unfortunately for those who do suffer from it, much is unknown about the disorder.

The disease is striking in its onset and severity. As such, it is often very apparent to parents and caregivers. Like with other autism types, early intervention is critical for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Treatment involves several modalities, including Applied Behavioral Analysis, physical therapy, and sensory and environmental therapy. In addition, medication can be helpful in controlling levels of fear, anxiety, and self-injury. Antipsychotics can also help to control aggression.

4. Kanner’s Syndrome

Kanner’s Syndrome is also known as Low Functioning Autism. It is named after Dr. Leo Kanner, one of the pioneers in the autism field. His 1943 paper on the subject is an important line of research that first brought the exploration of autism to the United States.

The causes of Kanner’s Syndrome are not fully understood. However, like most autism types, there is ample evidence to indicate that Kanner’s Syndrome has strong genetic components. Individuals with autism in their families are more likely to receive an autism diagnosis.

When a person thinks of an autistic individual, they probably think of someone with Kanner’s Syndrome. Individuals with the Kanner’s autism type present themselves with many of the “classic” symptoms of autism. These symptoms include:

  • Difficulty with communication or emotions
  • Obsession with certain behaviors, hobbies, or patterns
  • Difficulty or inability to express empathy or form emotional relationships with other individuals
  • Inability to express oneself in speech or non-verbal communication, e.g. uncontrolled speech or babbling
  • Extensive pattern-forming ability
  • Inability to form or hold eye contact with another person.
  • Dislike of physical touch

In more severe cases, an individual with Kanner’s Syndrome may be unable to handle activities of daily living. These activities can include using the bathroom, getting dressed, or holding a job. Individuals who suffer from Kanner’s Syndrome may need a lifetime of care. They are often only able to survive with the assistance of others or in an institutional setting.

However, like all autism types, people who have Kanner’s Syndrome may still be able to live on their own. The ability of an individual with Kanner’s Syndrome to live on their own comes down to the treatment. If resources are available to them at a young age, they are much more likely to be able to live independently. Early intervention services for people with Kanner’s Syndrome can start as early as three years old. This approach depends on the treatment options available and whether someone has received their Kanner’s Syndrome diagnosis.

As with other autism types, treatment for Kanner’s Syndrome involves a package of services. When done right, these treatments can supplement various developmental deficits, including deficits in a person’s intellectual, physical, and social development. Treatments can include physical and emotional therapy. They also include one-on-one care designed to supplement intellectual learning and development.

5. Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified

Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified is the last autism type. It is a subtype of autism that was brought under the larger umbrella of an autism diagnosis. This change happened with the 2013 edition of the Diagnostic & Statistics Manual (DSM-IV). Despite the fact that it is no longer a “formal” diagnosis, many individuals still use it to describe autism types that do not fall into the above-noted types. There are many similarities between Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified and other autism types. These include:

  • Difficulty communicating by verbal or non-verbal means. It means that a person with PDD will have challenges expressing themselves. They may also have challenges communicating their desires or understanding non-verbal cues. Literal communication is often required for a person with PDD.
  • Challenges in various social or relationship settings. A person with PDD will struggle to form meaningful relationships. They may also show challenges with functioning in a broader society or culture.

Unlike other forms of autism, PDD usually has an early onset and is not marked by any regression period. The symptoms of PDD may not become fully apparent until someone is older.

As of today, PDD is often referred to as “atypical autism.” This phrase means that it does not fit in with other definitions of the disorder. It makes getting a diagnosis harder but not impossible. Individuals who suffer from PDD show real benefit with early intervention, including several cognitive and social treatments. These treatments treat their issues in a customized, personalized way.

Why Does the Autism Type Matter in a Diagnosis?

Determining the right autism type is critical for receiving proper treatment. The five autism types noted above have seen different studies and research. They have different causes, different treatment modalities, and different strategies for coping. Understanding the autism type is crucial. It can help ensure that you or your loved one gets the right treatment.

Furthermore, in most places, a person must get a formal diagnosis, even though treatment can begin without such a diagnosis. This is still the case if your loved one is suffering from what you believe to be “clear-cut” signs of autism. Unfortunately, there are various challenges here. Accessing autism treatment is often very difficult, so knowing the autism type can help you get treatment as soon as possible.

Getting the Right Autism Type Diagnosis

There are ways that you can get the right kind of autism type diagnosis. At Zinnia Health, we’re here to help. We utilize the Autism Diagnosis Observation Schedule tool. We can help you or a loved one get diagnosed with the right autism type because we have extensive expertise in this area. We also have many certified clinicians on staff who can help you. This diverse approach will ensure that your loved ones get the services they need.

As noted by medical and governmental experts, getting the right autism type diagnosis early is critical for success. You can immediately begin appropriate interventions for educational, social, and occupational therapy. These interventions can ensure that your loved one begins the path toward the happy and healthy life they deserve.

If you have any concerns about a loved one having autism, don’t wait. Reach out to Zinnia Health today through our Contact Us page or at 844-926-4750, and let our experts help you.