One of the first things parents want to know once they begin learning about Autism Spectrum Disorder, is “Where does my child lie on the spectrum?” The best way to determine this is to have a diagnosis done by a specialist; however, the following will offer some brief insight into how the spectrum is organized.
Currently, the different types of autism are measured by what’s known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4 (DSM-IV). This manual covers a diagnosis and measurement of all mental health disorders recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. Within the DSM-IV, is a category of mental illness known as ”pervasive developmental disorders” (PDD). This category includes five mental disorders:
- Childhood disintegrative disorder
- Rett syndrome
- Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
PDD-NOS includes the most common type of autism, which is referred to as atyptical autism. This, along with Autism and Asperger’s make up what is commonly referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder, with PDD-NOS being the most common.
Autism is the first of the three disabilities within the spectrum. The term is often used interchangeably, with reference to both the autistic disorder itself, as well as the spectrum as a whole. The symptoms of autism are closest with those of asperger’s, being characterized primarily by impaired communication and social skills. One of the key difference between autism and asperger’s is that those with the autistic disorder generally experience more language development delays than those with asperger’s.
Asperger’s syndrome is the second of the different types of autism in the spectrum. It is frequently characterized by the same symptoms as the autistic disorder; however, it differs slightly because, for the most part, cognitive and language development are largely preserved. This difference often places Asperger’s in the category of “high functioning” autism. Though they may never completely overcome their struggles with communication and social interaction, children with asperger’s will oftentimes see improvements as they grow older.
As mentioned above, PDD-NOS is often referred to as atypical autism, and is the most prevalent of the different types of autism. One reason for this is that many clinicians, reluctant to diagnose the actual autistic disorder when the child is still at a young age, will actually use PDD-NOS as a sort of temporary diagnosis. This is largely due to the fact that all children develop at different rates, making it hard for doctors to make an accurate diagnosis when the child is still at a very young age. As a result, PDD-NOS covers varying degrees of the disorder, with children displaying a number of different symptoms. Despite this, the two main characteristics of PDD-NOS remain the same as those of Asperger’s and Autism: impaired communication and social skills.
While these brief explanations can offer insight to the different types of autism, they must not act as a complete guide to diagnosis. As mentioned above, it is important that an accurate diagnosis be made by an accredited clinician. Perhaps the most important reason for this is that a proper diagnosis allows the child to receive the most applicable and effective treatment for his/her situation.