Different Forms of Autism: Conditions & Latest Treatment

Explore different forms of autism, their unique conditions, and the latest treatments available.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
March 1, 2024

Different Forms of Autism: Conditions & Latest Treatment

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex and multifaceted topic. To fully grasp the different forms of autism, it is crucial to first understand what ASD is and the factors that contribute to its development.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. The range and severity of symptoms can vary widely. ASD is known as a "spectrum" disorder due to the wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience WebMD.

ASD can be associated with intellectual disabilities, difficulties in motor coordination, and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances WebMD.

There are different forms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which were previously classified as diagnostic subtypes such as autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) CDC. However, in the DSM-5, a single diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder has replaced the previous subcategories CDC.

Causes and Risk Factors

ASD is more common in boys than in girls, and it can occur in any ethnic, racial, or economic group WebMD. The prevalence of ASD in the United States was estimated at 1 in 44 children in 2021, marking a drastic increase from around 1 in 2,000 reported in the 1980s. This escalation in ASD diagnoses raises questions about whether it represents a genuine rise in prevalence or reflects alterations in diagnostic criteria over time MedlinePlus.

Genetic factors are estimated to contribute to about 40 to 80 percent of ASD risk. While over 1,000 genes have been linked to ASD, many of these associations remain unconfirmed. Additionally, other factors such as parental age, birth complications, and unidentified environmental risk factors also play a role in determining an individual's likelihood of developing ASD MedlinePlus.

In 2 to 4 percent of individuals with ASD, rare gene mutations or chromosome abnormalities are believed to be the underlying cause of the condition. These mutations are often part of syndromes that involve a variety of signs and symptoms beyond ASD MedlinePlus.

In summary, understanding ASD and its various forms requires an appreciation of its complexity and the many factors that can influence its development and presentation.

Subtypes of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) encompasses a wide range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. The spectrum reflects the variety and severity of the symptoms individuals experience. There are three different forms of autism spectrum disorder: Autistic Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified.

Autistic Disorder

Autistic disorder, also known as classic autism, is often diagnosed when a child exhibits social, language, and behavioral impairments, as well as repetitive and restrictive behaviors. The symptoms can be severe and interfere with daily functioning [2]. Children with Autistic disorder may have difficulties with communication and interaction, unusual interest in specific objects or subjects, and a need for routine and consistency.

Asperger Syndrome

Asperger Syndrome is another form of ASD, characterized by difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. Unlike Autistic Disorder, it does not involve language delays. Individuals with Asperger Syndrome usually have milder symptoms compared to those with Autistic Disorder, but often face challenges with social skills and communication.

It's important to note that Asperger Syndrome was reclassified as level 1 autism spectrum disorder by the DSM-5 diagnostic manual in 2013. However, the term may still be informally used, especially within autism communities.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified

Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is a subtype of ASD that is often referred to as “subthreshold autism,” as it describes individuals who meet some but not all of the criteria for Autistic Disorder or Asperger Syndrome. PDD-NOS is a milder form of autism characterized by challenges in social and language development. Children with this disorder may experience delays in language development, walking, and other motor skills.

While these categories help to identify the different forms of autism, it's crucial to understand that every individual with autism is unique. The severity and combination of symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. This diversity among individuals with ASD led to the term "spectrum" in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Understanding the different forms of autism aids in better diagnosis, intervention, and support for those living with ASD.

Autism Severity Levels

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex condition that presents itself in different forms. ASD is a spectrum disorder, meaning that the symptoms and characteristics can present themselves in a variety of combinations, ranging from mild to severe [1]. This spectrum of manifestation is categorized into three levels of severity.

Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder

Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder, also known as high-functioning autism, is characterized by noticeable issues with social communication and interaction. Individuals at this level need some support but can typically manage their daily routines and tasks. They may struggle to initiate social interactions and may show atypical responses in conversations.

While they may exhibit unusual interests or behaviors, these are not as pronounced as in other levels of autism. Examples include having a deep knowledge of specific topics, preferring routines, and experiencing difficulty with changes in routine.

Level 2 and 3 Autism Spectrum Disorder

Level 2 and Level 3 Autism Spectrum Disorders represent more severe forms of autism. These individuals require more substantial support in their daily life due to marked difficulties in social interaction and communication.

In Level 2 Autism, individuals exhibit a more limited initiation of social interactions and reduced responsiveness. Their behavioral patterns and interests are noticeably abnormal and can interfere with their daily functioning.

Level 3 Autism, the most severe level, is characterized by severe deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills. These individuals exhibit very limited initiation of social interactions and minimal response to social overtures from others. Inflexibility of behavior, extreme difficulty in coping with changes in routine, and repetitive behaviors markedly interfere with functioning in all spheres.

It's crucial to note that the level of autism severity can change over time, especially with early intervention and appropriate support. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial for individuals with autism spectrum disorder to achieve the best possible outcomes [4].

Autism Severity Level Characteristics
Level 1 Noticeable issues with social communication and interaction, needs some support
Level 2 Limited social interaction, abnormal behavioral patterns, needs substantial support
Level 3 Severe deficits in social communication skills, very limited social interaction, needs very substantial support

Understanding these distinctions is key to providing the appropriate support and interventions for individuals with autism, according to their specific needs and challenges. It's essential to remember that every person with ASD is unique, with their own strengths, abilities, and challenges. Their experiences and needs cannot be entirely encapsulated by their level of severity.

Unique Autism Conditions

When discussing the different forms of autism, it is crucial to highlight some unique conditions within the spectrum. These conditions, though not as prevalent as typical autism spectrum disorders, demonstrate the complexity and diversity of autism. Two such conditions are Rett Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.

Rett Syndrome

Rett syndrome is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder that primarily affects girls but can also be diagnosed in boys. This syndrome impacts almost every aspect of a child's life and becomes noticeable in infancy. Rett syndrome is characterized by normal early growth and development followed by a slowing of development, loss of purposeful use of the hands, distinctive hand movements, slowed brain and head growth, problems with walking, seizures, and intellectual disability [3].

The condition is often misdiagnosed as autism, cerebral palsy, or non-specific developmental delay, making it one of the rarer forms of autism. Despite the challenges it presents, individuals with Rett syndrome can live into middle age and beyond, benefiting from physical, occupational, and speech therapy to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD) is another rare form of autism that is more common in boys, with 9 out of 10 cases affecting boys. CDD is characterized by a marked regression in multiple areas of functioning following a period of at least two years of apparently normal development.

Typically, children with CDD develop normally until ages 3 to 10 before they start to lose social, language, and motor skills. This delayed onset of developmental issues sets CDD apart from other forms of autism. These children may lose their ability to interact with others, become mute, or even lose control over their bladder and bowel movements.

CDD is one of the most severe forms of autism, with most individuals requiring lifelong care. Despite its challenges, early intervention, structured therapies, and family support can significantly enhance the quality of life of those affected by CDD.

These unique conditions underscore the broad spectrum of autism, emphasizing the need for personalized care and intervention strategies. As research continues, the understanding of these conditions and their impact on individuals and families continues to grow.

Autism and Genetics

In the quest for understanding the different forms of autism, genetics plays a critical role. Several genetic factors contribute to the development of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and ongoing research continues to shed light on the complex relationship between our genes and ASD.

Genetic Factors in Autism

Genetic factors are estimated to contribute to about 40 to 80 percent of the risk of developing ASD. Researchers have linked over 1,000 genes to ASD, however, many of these associations remain unconfirmed. The role of genetics is further complicated by the influence of other factors such as parental age, birth complications, and unidentified environmental risk factors.

In 2 to 4 percent of individuals with ASD, rare gene mutations or chromosome abnormalities are believed to be the underlying cause of the condition. These mutations often form part of syndromes that involve a variety of signs and symptoms beyond ASD. For instance, mutations in genes like ADNP, ARID1B, ASH1L, CHD2, CHD8, DYRK1A, POGZ, SHANK3, and SYNGAP1 can cause ASD along with other associated features [5].

Current Research in Autism Genomics

The field of genetics in ASD research has received wide attention, with findings widely cited in immunology, clinical research, and psychological research.

Recent studies have identified three main clusters in ASD research: "causative mechanisms," "clinical features," and "intervention features". These clusters represent the key areas of focus in the ongoing quest to understand ASD's genetic underpinnings [6].

In particular, genetic variants associated with ASD have gained increasing attention over the past decade. Emerging research frontiers have also started to explore the role of immune dysbiosis and gut microbiota in ASD after 2015. These areas of study offer promising new directions for understanding ASD's genetic links and developing effective interventions [6].

The exploration of the genetic factors in autism is critical to unraveling the complexities of ASD. As research progresses, a clearer understanding of the different forms of autism and their genetic underpinnings will emerge, potentially leading to more effective interventions and treatments for those living with ASD.

Autism Interventions and Treatments

Exploring the different forms of autism also means understanding the various interventions and treatments that can assist individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Treatment strategies often focus on managing symptoms, improving quality of life, and fostering independence and social connectivity. The most effective treatments are tailored to the individual's specific needs and may involve a combination of behavioral therapies and medication.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies are a cornerstone of ASD treatment, focusing on improving communication, social relationships, and essential self-care skills. One widely recommended approach is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). As reported by the NICHD, ABA has been shown to enhance various aspects of life, including play, school, and employment.

Communication interventions also play a significant role in autism treatment. These include the use of sign language, pictures, speech-generating devices, and programs that train individuals to use verbal and nonverbal communication cues effectively. These interventions can significantly improve an individual's ability to express their needs and engage with others.

It's crucial to note that early diagnosis and intervention can lead to the best possible outcomes. According to Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, behavioral therapies, coupled with educational support, can help individuals with autism enhance their social and communication skills, manage challenging behaviors, and lead fulfilling lives.

Medication and Occupational Therapy

While there is no cure for autism, certain medications can help manage some of its symptoms. As per NICHD, these may include hyperactivity, impulsivity, tantrums, and aggression. However, the effectiveness of these medications varies depending on the individual, and it's essential to understand potential side effects.

Occupational therapy is another essential aspect of autism treatment. It can assist individuals in developing fine motor skills, daily living skills, and appropriate social interactions. Occupational therapists work with individuals to help them become as independent as possible, focusing on skills that will enable them to participate in everyday activities.

In conclusion, understanding the different forms of autism is a complex process that involves recognizing the various subtypes and severity levels of ASD. However, the ultimate goal is to identify interventions and treatments that can help individuals with autism lead fulfilling lives. With the right combination of therapies, support, and medication, many individuals with ASD can thrive.


[1]: https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/autism-spectrum-disorders

[2]: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html

[3]: https://www.integrityinc.org/what-are-the-5-types-of-autism/

[4]: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fncel.2019.00385

[5]: https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/autism-spectrum-disorder/

[6]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10168184/