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The Different Types of Autism and How to Recognize Each on the Spectrum

AutismWhen people hear the word ‘autism’ they often have an idea of an individual in their head. Although those preconceived notions may be true for some people with Autism, not all people fall under that ‘classic Autistic’ category.
Autism often presents itself first and foremost during the pivotal developmental years of a young child, from ages 0-6. During these ages, the child may miss certain milestones that he or she should be hitting for their age, causing concern among their parents and family members.

Symptoms and signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder will vary from person to person, as no two cases are the same. Did you know that there are three different types of Autism Spectrum Disorders (also known as ASD)?  Read below to learn more about each type of Autism and how you can identify it.

Autistic Disorder

Autistic Disorder, also known as the ‘classic case of Autism.’ This is the typical case that people think of when they think of an individual with Autism. These individuals may have issues with verbal and non-verbal communication, which can cause them to either have a delay in speech, lack of facial expressions or trouble maintaining eye contact while speaking. Additionally, they may experience hypo-sensitivity to sight, sound, smell touch or taste. An individual with classic Autism may find it difficult to go through the motions of their everyday life without repetition or routine and may have a negative reaction when either of these are taken away from them. They may also have a hard time relating to society and other people, as they may not be able to empathize with other people’s emotions since they do not experience the same emotions themselves.

Asperger Syndrome

Asperger Syndrome is a form of Autism that presents challenges socially and in the individuals’ behavior or interests. They may have milder symptoms than those with classic Autistic Disorder but have their own trials and tribulations in their daily life. Someone that has Asperger Syndrome may act inappropriately in social situations, coming across as awkward or rude. They may feel more comfortable speaking about themselves, rather than focusing on someone they are socializing with, which makes them appear to be unempathetic and selfish. An individual with Asperger Syndrome may also have trouble expressing themselves nonverbally, which can cause them to not know how to have appropriate facial expressions, gestures or body language.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is best described as individuals that do not fit into either the Autistic Disorder or the Asperger Syndrome categories. This person may have some mild symptoms from both types of Autism, but present other high functioning characteristics as well. These individuals can be in one of three categories: high-functioning, symptoms close to Autistic Disorder but not quite fully meeting its symptoms and the third group which is that the individual does meet all of the requirements to be in the Autistic Disorder group but have very mild behavior symptoms. This specific category is relatively new, as it has been categorized as a part of the Autism spectrum only in the past 15 years.

An individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder will face several struggles throughout their life, including social behavior and traits, motor functions and their overall behavior patterns. An individual that is on the Autism spectrum may experience the following difficulties and struggles through out their life.

Behavior, Activities and Interests:


  • Repeating the same movements constantly, such as clapping their hands, stomping their feet or rocking back and forth. Often these movements are done out of a state of relaxation or as a coping method.
  • Ways of moving may seem out of the ordinary, such as being aggressive in certain actions such as being too rough with a simple hug or being too aggressive during play time with other children.
  • Obsessive actions and thoughts towards certain things are not uncommon. They may obsess over a certain corner of a house, a toy that they love or a specific person. Failure to have this object or person around them may result in a breakdown, commonly with crying, screaming or tantrums.
  • Focusing on one specific topic all the time can prevent other topics of conversation from coming into play. Often individuals on the Autism spectrum will obsess over a certain topic, such as airplanes or trains. It can be extremely hard for them to engage in any sort of conversation that is not directly related to the object they are interested in.
  • Sensitivity to certain sensory experiences may vary. Some individuals are hypersensitive to sensations such as cold, textures, sounds, etc. whereas others are hyposensitive to them.

Motor Skills

Each person with Autism Spectrum Disorder is unique and no two cases will be identical. Motor skills will vary based on the severity of Autism the individual has, as well as any therapy or programs that the individual participates in to negate these complications. Their motor skills may be impacted in the following ways:

  • Children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder may experience a delay in learning how to speak or they may never speak at all. The average age for a child learning to speak is around two years old, but one of the first signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder is delayed speech after the age of two years old.
  • An individual that can communicate but also has Autism Spectrum Disorder may speak at an abnormal volume or tone of voice and may repeat a certain phrase often. They may not understand the appropriate tone, volume and approach to a conversation.
  • Carrying on conversations can be difficult for those with ASD because they may feel frustrated that they cannot communicate their feelings completely to those they are speaking with. They may also have a hard time understanding the words that they are hearing and an appropriate response to the conversation.
  • In individuals with ASD, more specifically Asperger Syndrome, understanding sarcasm, humor and literal statements can be difficult. Adversely, they may have a hard time communicating their humor and may come across as abrasive or crass.

Social Behavior and Traits

Just as motor skills vary based on the severity of the case of ASD, social behavior will vary as well. Social skills can improve over time with the proper therapy and intervention from professionals. Social behaviors that can signal Autism Syndrome Disorder includes:

  • Aggressive social behavior such as rough play, hitting, scratching or inappropriate aggression towards their peers.
  • Inappropriate language, actions or gestures may be common for individuals with ASD. These inappropriate actions can include lewd language, gestures that are aggressive or sexual in nature or actions that are unfitting for the situation they are in.
  • Feelings, body language and actions can easily be misinterpreted with an individual with ASD. They may take a sentence or action out of context and respond accordingly.
  • Socially, individuals on the Autism spectrum may seem awkward or uncomfortable. They will likely not pursue any sort of social activity on their own and may respond to social interactions in a timid or hostile way.

It is important to note that although these are common signs and symptoms of Autism Syndrome Disorder, they are not the sole indicator of Autism. It is imperative to recognize that just because an individual has one of these characteristics that they are not automatically categorized as Autistic or on the spectrum. If you believe that someone has Autism or is on the spectrum, we encourage you to speak with their doctor, family members and close friends. Medical professionals are the only members of society that can formally diagnose Autism Syndrome Disorder.

We hope that this information about the different types of Autism will help you differentiate between the three different categories of Autism. We want to encourage you to embrace all people, whether they have a disability or not, and show them all the same respect. We feel that everyone is just as important and special as the next!


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