As the name implied, autism is a spectrum disorder which means the severity of autism varies depending on the person. Even though each person on the spectrum has the same symptoms, they demonstrate them on different levels and in different severity. For example, let’s say there are two people, they get the same diagnosis, they are in the same age, and they have the same gender but still they can exhibit different behaviors, they can look completely different from each other in terms of behaviors, abilities, and skills.
Autism cannot be evaluated in a single way. There are many subtypes, many of which are affected by the combination of genetic and environmental factors. Therefore, autism, which is a neurodevelopmental disorder, occurs with different symptoms in each individual, but the severity of these symptoms is also different. This causes a wide spectrum of autism types. One side of the spectrum is identified by species that represent severe symptoms, while the other side is identified by types that represent milder symptoms.
If your child doesn’t seem to follow her/his developmental steps on time, you might wonder if she/he could have autism. The truth is, there are different types of autism spectrum disorder that exist, and they do not always look the same from child to child. Many parents worry that if their child has autism it means that she/he will no longer have a productive, successful life.
If your child has autism spectrum disorder, get ready to hear many terms related to autism. For example, high-functioning autism, atypical autism, typical autism, autism spectrum disorder, severe autism, mild autism, and pervasive developmental disorder. When you have just started to hear about them, they sound very confusing. Besides they are, everyone related to autism whether professional or parent use these terms in different ways.
But in the end, it is about your child. The label given your child doesn’t important at all. It is about your child’s needs, strengths, weaknesses, and so on. That label cannot decide the uniqueness of your child. That label cannot tell you what kind of challenges you are going through. That label cannot interfere with how much you love your child. It is only about finding the proper treatment and making your child’s life easier. You don’t need a definite diagnosis to get professional help. It is enough to know that your child is on the spectrum.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism is often observed first and foremost during ages between 0-6. During these ages, the child may not show certain developmental steps that he or she should be hitting for their age. These deficiencies cause concern among parents and family members.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is a spectrum disorder that includes a wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability. It can be observed in around 1 in 68 people. But, in different shapes or forms. Even though the severity is different, there are some main characteristics of autism.
- Showing repetitive and stereotypical behaviors
- Limited interests
- Problems in social life
- Symptoms that affect abilities to function properly
- Difficulties in communicating or interacting with others.
- Having symptoms since the early years of life
It doesn’t mean that every individual on the spectrum has to be affected in the same way. While some of them can be impaired only mildly, some others may be impacted severely. Even though labeling is not that important, here is where the types of spectrum disorders come into play. Each type of spectrum is defined by its severity, in other words, varying degrees of symptoms.
1- Autistic Disorder
It is also known as classical autism. This type is what people usually think of when they hear the expression of autism. Those with this type of spectrum disorder have significant language delays, social problems, communication problems, unusual behavior, and interests. This type of autism is considered the most severe and also the most common.
People who have the autistic disorder don’t like people to touch them. They may have problems performing restricted behavior in improper times and places. They may experience all sense in extremes. They feel overwhelming most of the time. And, communication is the most obvious criterion when they have problems. People with autistic disorder have the same symptoms with others on the spectrum, however, these people experience these symptoms in more severe levels.
- They often repeat the sentences they hear.
- They are weak in playing with toys.
- They can act as if they are not hearing when they are told something.
- They often perform repetitive movements, such as shaking their head, clapping, or swinging back and forth. these behaviors disrupt their daily lives.
- Sometimes they can look at a gap without any meaning for a long time and just stay.
- They strive to arrange or rotate the items.
- They are very dependent on their routine lives, in such a way that they react too much to change the location of their beds. They are very strict about their routines.
2- Atypical Autism
It is the diagnosis of children who have autism symptoms but do not show enough symptoms to be diagnosed with autism. Atypical autism symptoms show mild symptoms such as difficulty in speaking, development, socialization, and communication. It is a diagnosis frequently made in early childhood, especially in the last 4 years. It is the group with the lowest number of autism spectrum symptoms.
It is the diagnostic group that has the highest probability of recovery if there is no intelligence problem with high quality and intensive education that has been caught for about 18 months. The most important feature that distinguishes atypical autism from other types of autism is that early diagnosis and correct treatment methods can overcome the speech and communication disorders experienced by individuals. The early diagnosis has an enormous impact on overcoming the problems and continuing the life of the individual normally.
Therefore, families should observe the movements and development of their children, behave sensitively about the doctor’s controls, and follow them by establishing healthy communication with their children. If you think that your child shows some symptoms of atypical autism, he or she should immediately consult a specialist and the treatment process should be started quickly. Atypical autism is least affected by only one or all of the interaction, language and social areas of autism spectrum disorder.
- They don’t use language appropriately.
- They are extremely shy.
- They tend to stick to the order and routine they set up and to adhere to it.
- They react to different environments in order to change the layout.
- They show extreme sensitivity to food, smell, touch, hearing, and visual stimuli.
- Repetitive movements are mostly observed.
In addition to examinations, expert controls, and professional training in atypical autism, the treatment process can be accelerated by supporting it with various education, communication, and games in the family. During the treatment process that the child is in, the child should be supported, the child should be encouraged, the activities and games the child likes should be done in the family, and reassuring cases in the name of socialization should be instilled and the child should not be guilty in the actions he/she cannot tolerate.
It is very important for the family to have the necessary knowledge and equipment in home education in the treatment of atypical autism and to support the treatment process with various methods in overcoming the problems experienced by children. The fact that families have the necessary knowledge and equipment in autism is important for supporting children in the treatment process and improving their skills.
3- Asperger’s Syndrome
This is one of the milder types on the autism spectrum. People with Asperger syndrome may experience the same symptoms as other types on the spectrum, but they tend to be milder symptoms.
Often, people with Asperger syndrome have extraordinary behaviors and interests in addition to social difficulties. These symptoms tend to be the most difficult part of this type of spectrum. They may be very intelligent and able to handle their daily lives by themselves. They may be really focused on topics that interest them and discuss them nonstop. But they have a much harder time socially.
Although autism occurs in the first 3 years of life, children with Asperger syndrome usually spend their infancy in the same health as others normally developed babies. While speech retardation is experienced in children with autism, it is observed normal to start and speak in children with Asperger syndrome. It differs from autism in terms of cognitive and language development. Compared to children with autism, children with Asperger syndrome are relatively more talkative and even overly talked about their interests. They know that they are not compatible with society, but the child with autism is not aware of this.
Asperger syndrome has some aspects that distinguish it from autism, but it is also called high functioning autism. Let’s take a look at Asperger’s features distinguishing from autism.
- They are aware of what is happening around them.
- They experience problems with motor skills more. They have difficulty in skills such as shoelaces and cycling.
- Sensory sensitivities, especially touch sensitivity, are at a high level.
- They have abilities such as doing math operations called Savan and having a great memory. However, intelligence scores are generally at normal intelligence scores.
- They react excessively to changes.
- They are calm and dream constantly in their own state.
- They cannot empathize with their peers. Empathy skills are not developed.
- There are obsessive and repetitive movements.
Due to its subjective nature, some children with Asperger’s Syndrome receive an initial misdiagnosis because other conditions resemble it, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD). Parents can help children with Asperger’s Syndrome by locating social skills classes, taking part in behavioral modification for any obsessive tendencies, possibly altering diet to remove preservatives, gluten, artificial sugars, and food coloring, and looking into a differentiated curriculum for advanced learners.
In the education of individuals with Asperger syndrome, emphasis should be placed on communication skills and sports activities and skills to cope with changes should be improved. They can have a job with the right education and guidance.
Although Asperger’s syndrome lasts for life, like other types of autism on the spectrum, there is a chance to reduce the effects of symptoms. For this, the child needs to get proper and effective treatments. Before that, proper diagnosis is needed. The training should be focused on child’s interaction with the rest of the world. The child needs to take an active role in society after this treatment.
The treatment for Asperger’s syndrome consists of improving social skills and communication and behavioral management. The education program should be parallel with the child’s development. It should be sustainable in any environment, such as both at school and at home.
4- Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise Specialized (PPD NOS)
Children with PPD NOS, actually, doesn’t have autism. Because of the fact that, they don’t meet autism symptom diagnostic criteria but looks like autism. It is mostly about the delay. It occurs in the development of communication and interaction skills of children after the age of 3. After the age of 3, regression begins to be observed. It is a group that requires lifelong medicine and special education.
It is a more mild type on the autism spectrum. As other types on the spectrum, these children have social or developmental delays. For example, they can walk or talk later than their peers. Those children often learn to cope with their developmental and social challenges more easily. Like Asperger’s Syndrome, children with PDD-NOS can benefit from social skills classes, dietary changes, and occupational therapy.
- Difficulties in language and communication skills are observed.
- They cannot install games or continue games.
- Excessive repetitive movements (swinging, shaking hands, back and forth movements, etc.)
- Echolalia is observed in speech.
5- Rett Syndrome
It is an autism spectrum disorder that is only seen in girls. Especially before the age of 4, regression starts to be observed. The most obvious finding is that the growth of the head structure stops after 5 months. It is a type of autism known as babies with normal development up to 18 months to enter the stagnation and regression process.
This type of progressive autism only affects girls and begins to become apparent when they reach about 6 months old. Typical symptoms of Rett Syndrome are the same as typical ones of autism. It includes repetitive behaviors, delayed speech and problems with motor movements, especially with hands.
More severe symptoms start to appear as the child gets older. These can include difficulties breathing, mental retardation, grinding teeth, seizures, and growth delays. Most of the time, lifelong care is needed in terms of Rett syndrome. Treatment includes physical, occupational and speech therapy, diet modifications, and medication. Each therapy targets different areas, each therapy aims different strengths.
- It is seen only in girls.
- In the first 4 years, backwardness begins to develop.
- Their functions to use their hands begin to decrease, as the first sign of Rett Syndrome
- Over time, it begins to manifest itself with typical hand movements (washing and shaking things, like hand and mouth movements).
- Problems are observed in walking.
- Balance problems are observed.
- There is almost no improvement in language development.
- Obvious problems are observed in fine motor skills.
- There may also be neurological problems that accompany all these problems.
6- Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)
Sometimes, you may have heard interesting stories about children’s development. For example, there was a boy who developed very well until the age of 3. He completed all the developmental steps until that age. Then, suddenly, without any obvious reason, his development has stopped. Yes, this is, interestingly one type of autism, CDD. More than physically devastating, this is very confusing and hard to accept for parents.
It is very difficult to understand whether your child has these symptoms or not. Because they don’t show any sign or show very little. Then, one day, suddenly, their development starts to regress. They start to have problems with taking, eye contact, social interactions, and so on. Professionals have seen a connection between this rare form of autism and seizure disorders. Early intervention, again, is very important. Parents can help their children through early intervention. This may include behavioral modification, dietary changes, occupational and speech therapy.
7- Fragile X Syndrome
It can be defined as the weakness of the sex chromosome X. It is a mental retardation disorder related to the X chromosome. For this reason, the individual has difficulties in perception by having learning difficulties. It can be seen in 15-60% of autism cases.
The fragile x syndrome, which is very common but as yet little known in the community, is hereditary mental retardation. It is a genetic disorder. Moreover, among mental retardation, it is the most common hereditary cause, which means it is passed from generation to generation. However, unlike many other hereditary diseases, this disease is not seen in the parent. The parent is only the carrier of the gene that causes this disorder. It shows different progress in girls and boys. More than progress, it shows itself in different intensities. Boys are more prone to have fragile X syndrome. It is observed mostly in boys and more severe version.
After we mentioned above about the prevalence rate of rage x syndrome, now we support our sentence by saying that it takes second place among childhood pathological disorders after down syndrome. It is noticed at around 3 years old in boys, but it is noticeable around 8 years old in girls. More than behavioral symptoms, they also show physical symptoms. These are;
- Big ears, long face, wide forehead, high palate, low muscle tone, strabismus are physical features.
- They cannot make eye contact.
- They repeat their nervous speech or movements.
- They exhibit stereotypical movements such as hand clapping.
- In the game, not making friends, excessive mobility and distraction are observed.
There is currently no cure for treating fragile x syndrome completely. Symptoms can be alleviated with treatment methods such as special education, physical therapy, skill-building therapist, and speech and language therapy. In addition to the therapies, drug treatments can also be applied. Various drug treatments can be applied due to problems such as hyperactivity and attention disorder. At the same time, drug treatments can be included in situations such as aggression, anxiety, and depression.
8- Severe Autism
Like other types we mentioned above, severe autism is not an official diagnosis. It is not a type given a name by professionals. Instead, it is a descriptive term.
- Non-verbal individuals
- Sometimes intellectually disabled
- Very challenging behaviors can be observed.
- Severe autism is usually diagnosed as Level 3 Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Severe autism is extremely challenging and may include aggression and other difficult behaviors
- Most people with severe autism never gain meaningful use of spoken language
- Some people with symptoms of severe autism do gain the ability to communicate through signs, picture boards, or other means
9- Childhood Schizophrenia
Like many other disorders, childhood schizophrenia has a very important genetic background. It breaks the bridge between a child and a reality. It causes hallucinations and delusions. If there is someone with mental disorder in the family history, the child most likely to develop childhood schizophrenia.
This ailment would be related or not. But, it is something certainly should be taken into consideration. For instance, you have a child with abnormal neurological development. You don’t know exactly what it is but you know that there is a severe problem. It could be because of complications during birth or because of family disorder background. Knowing the background would be helpful. It will be good to know whether there is someone in your family or not.
It has negative impacts on both behaviorally and mentally. Those children may have difficulties, for example, in language, motor skills, and movements, or basically socialization. Even you are open-minded, these children always shy, anxious, and strange.
There are different methods available to use in the treatment of childhood schizophrenia. But, no matter you choose for your child, drug therapy is a 100% must to follow. It aims that balance the child and limit symptoms. Thanks to medication, professionals find a good time to work with the child. It creates possible environment. After adjusting the drug rate after deciding how much they need to take, it is important to teach the child to distinguish between hallucinations and their reality.
Social interaction is another point that those children struggle with. Like any other child, they need to socialize with their peers. In this case, the parent’s need is necessary. Professionals need to work with parents. They teach parents how to give positive responses to their children when there is discomfort. So, promoting awareness in the social environment of the child is very important.