In 2013, three separate diagnoses came together under one umbrella to form what we know as Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, that hasn’t stopped people from holding onto the previously used names for each type, and this will likely continue. For that reason, it’s definitely helpful to know what the different types are and what they are characterized by.
1. Classic Autism
Classic Autism, also known as Autistic Disorder, is what often comes to mind when people imagine autism. It is characterized by speech delays, social and communication struggles, and repetitive or stereotyped behaviors or interests. Symptoms are generally noticeable before age 3. Individuals with classic autism may or may not have a co-occurring intellectual disability.
2. Asperger’s Syndrome
A mild form of autism, Asperger’s is characterized namely by social struggles. Unlike those with classic autism, people with Asperger’s—or “Aspies,” as some like to call themselves—do not experience language delays. They are often interested in other people but simply don’t know how to interact socially. They struggle to read body language and facial expressions, make eye contact, understand figurative language, and hold conversations with other people. They also have restricted interests. Though other forms of autism are sometimes accompanied by a co-morbid intellectual disability, this by definition is not the case for those with Asperger’s.
3. Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD(NOS))
Those with PDD(NOS), or atypical autism, don’t really fit into the other categories of autism. That is, they may have some but not all symptoms of classic autism. For example, some fit the description of Asperger’s but also have speech delays and/or cognitive disabilities, and some fit the description of classic autism but don’t exhibit as many restricted interests or repetitive behaviors. Individuals with PDD(NOS) are typically on the milder end of the spectrum.
AND ONE EXTRA: Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)
We’ve excluded this one from our main list because CDD is not only extremely rare but also a little bit more controversial. Debate about whether or not it actually falls on the autism spectrum continues. But in essence, CDD is when a child begins to develop normally and then dramatically regresses in terms of social, motor, and language development. The change can be gradual or sudden. CDD typically sets in between ages three and four, but it can also happen between ages two and 10.