What Are the 5 Different Types of Autism?

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) stands as a complex set of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. The word ‘spectrum’ itself reflects the wide discrepancies among individuals diagnosed with autism. Within this spectrum, there are distinct types, each with its own unique set of characteristics and challenges. Understanding these types is crucial for parents, educators, healthcare professionals, and the wider autism community.

This in-depth exploration will guide you through the landscape of five types of autism, providing insight that can enhance care, education, and support for those living with ASD. It is a vital resource for anyone seeking knowledge and connection with these remarkable individuals.

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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Overview

With the prevalence of autism growing, a basic understanding of ASD is essential. Autism is not a singular condition but a spectrum encompassing a broad range of neurodevelopmental disorders. It affects each individual differently, from how they interact with others to their response to sensory inputs. Early detection and comprehensive intervention are critical to provide the best possible outcome.

The CDC currently estimates that about 1 in 54 children have been identified with ASD. However, many cases remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, making the true prevalence difficult to gauge. The challenges associated with ASD can be significant but with appropriate support, individuals can thrive and make valuable contributions to society.

The Five Types of Autism

Autistic Disorder (Classic Autism)

Autistic disorder, often referred to as classical autism, is the most well-known type. Patients will demonstrate significant issues with social interactions and communication, alongside a tendency towards restricted and repetitive behaviors. These may manifest as fixations on specific topics, insistence on sameness, and the use of motor movements like hand-flapping or echolalia.

Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s Syndrome once represented a separate diagnosis from autistic disorder. Individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s often have normal to high levels of intelligence and language development but may struggle with social and communication challenges, as well as engaging in repetitive behaviors or having narrow interests.

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Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

PDD-NOS is diagnosed when the symptoms of autism are present, but the full set of criteria for another specific ASD diagnosis are not met. This can lead to a catch-all diagnosis for individuals who display some, but not all, of the features typical of autistic disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

This rare condition is characterized by seemingly typical development in the first few years of a child’s life followed by a dramatic loss of previously acquired skills, such as language, social interaction, and bowel or bladder control. This abrupt regression and its associated challenges differentiate childhood disintegrative disorder from other types of autism spectrum disorders.

Rett Syndrome

Rett syndrome, a genetic disorder most often affecting girls, involves normal development for the first six months followed by a deceleration of head growth. Loss of acquired motor skills and the onset of repetitive hand movements, such as hand-wringing or clapping, are also symptomatic. Breathing difficulties, seizures, and intellectual disabilities are common in those with Rett syndrome.

Symptoms and Diagnostic Criteria for Each Type

Understanding the symptoms and diagnostic criteria for each type aids in identifying and differentiating between them.

Autistic Disorder (Classic Autism)

Children with classic autism may demonstrate the following behaviors:

  • Delay in or lack of language development
  • Difficulty with nonverbal communication, such as understanding gestures and facial expressions
  • Inability to form peer relationships
  • Engaging in repetitive behaviors

Asperger’s Syndrome

The characteristic symptoms of Asperger’s include:

  • Average to above-average intelligence
  • Impairments in social interactions
  • Repetitive behaviors or restricted interests
  • Uncoordinated motor movements

Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

Because PDD-NOS is a diagnosis of exclusion, symptoms can vary widely, but commonly include:

  • Difficulties with social interaction and communication
  • Repetitive movements or behaviors
  • Narrow, intense interests

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

The symptoms of childhood disintegrative disorder include:

  • Loss of previously acquired language, social, and motor skills
  • Social difficulties and a lack of interest in peers
  • Problems with attention or memory
  • Aggression or self-injury

Rett Syndrome

Some of the key signs of Rett syndrome are:

  • Loss of purposeful use of the hands
  • Severely impaired expressive and receptive language development
  • Repetitive hand movements
  • Breathing abnormalities

Accurate diagnosis of these conditions is typically made through a comprehensive evaluation by a multidisciplinary team, including a pediatrician, neurologist, psychologist, speech therapist, and occupational therapist.

Related: A Shocking Reason Behind Autism And Schizophrenia

Impact on Individuals and Families

Each type of autism affects individuals differently, presenting unique challenges for the person with ASD and their family. The core impairments in social interaction and communication, combined with the presence of restrictive and repetitive behaviors, can make everyday life and conventional social interactions difficult to navigate for those with autism.

For families, the impact of caring for a child with autism can be profound, ranging from the emotional toll of witnessing your child struggle, to the practical challenges of accessing the necessary resources and supports. Understanding the specific type of autism a person has is crucial in tailoring interventions and support mechanisms.

Importance of Early Intervention and Support

Early intervention can significantly improve the outcome for children with autism. For those with autistic disorder and PDD-NOS, early focus on communication and social skills can lead to substantial gains. For conditions like Rett syndrome or childhood disintegrative disorder, medical management of symptoms and support for families can enhance both quality of life and health outcomes.

Families need access to a network of support services, educational programs, and therapy options. It’s important to remember that as new interventions and therapies emerge, the potential for improvement continues to grow. By seeking support early and continuously, individuals with autism can lead fulfilling lives within their capabilities.


Understanding the five types of autism is just the beginning of the journey toward effective support and advocacy. With an awareness of the specific challenges each type presents, we can foster a more compassionate and inclusive society. It’s crucial to champion individuals with ASD, to provide them with the opportunities they deserve, and to empower them to reach their full potential. Together, we can continue to shed light on this diverse and dynamic community, working towards a future where all individuals are accepted and supported.

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This site provides educational information only. It is important not to depend on any content here in place of professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Similarly, it should not replace professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any health concerns or questions, always seek guidance from a physician or another healthcare professional.