What Are the 5 Different Types of Autism?

Medically Reviewed on 11/30/2021

5 different types of autism

The 5 different types of autism include Asperger’s syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, Kanner’s syndrome, and PDD-NOS.

The 5 main types of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) include:

  1. Asperger’s syndrome:
    • Asperger’s syndrome was the term used before 2013, but now it has been reclassified as level I ASD by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
    • Young people with Asperger's syndrome can communicate with others and perform well in school, but they have difficulty socially connecting with others. Their behavior and thought patterns can be inflexible and repetitive.
    • Symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome may include:
      • May spend a lot of time thinking and talking about one topic or passion or may only wish to pursue a limited number of activities
      • Struggle to grasp social settings in terms of communication such as body language, facial expressions, gestures, humor, and sarcasm
      • Have fewer facial expressions than others
      • Hobbies can become obsessive and interfere with their daily living
      • Become irritated by even little variations in their routine
      • Easily remember chosen information and facts
      • Difficulty controlling emotions, which can lead to verbal or behavioral outbursts, self-injurious actions, or tantrums
  2. Rett syndrome:
    • Rett syndrome is a type of ASD that affects 1 in every 10,000 women and rarely affects men. It is often diagnosed in children aged 6 to 18 months when they begin to fail developmental milestones or lose previously acquired abilities.
    • Many experts now believe Rett syndrome to be part of a disease spectrum caused by mutations in the MECP2 gene, in which there is duplication of the MECP2 gene on the X chromosome.
    • Rett syndrome causes serious deficits in almost every element of a child's life.
    • Symptoms of Rett syndrome may include:
      • Loss of mobility or gait abnormalities
      • Reduced muscle tone
      • Microcephaly (smaller head size)
      • Speech impairment
      • Hands lose their functionality
      • Involuntary hand movements
      • Seizures
      • Difficulty breathing
      • Sleeping problems
      • Scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine)
  3. Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD):
    • CDD is a rare condition that was merged into ASD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
    • The onset of CDD differs from person to person, but mostly, it is seen after three years of age. Due to its late onset, there will be a loss of previously gained skills in social, verbal, and motor (related to movement) functioning in the child.
    • Although the exact cause of onset is unknown, some believe that the condition is a type of childhood dementia caused by the buildup of amyloid (a type of protein) in the brain. However, there is no evidence to prove the argument.
    • After showing normal development for two years, the child may progress into CDD. This occurs mostly between three and four years but may occur any time before 10 years of age.
      • The onset of CDD may be sudden or gradual.
      • Children may be aware of the condition and ask what is wrong with them.
      • Parents or professionals may not notice developmental changes such as language, communication, social interactions, and emotional development.
      • Children may report hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or smelling what is not there).
      • A child who could communicate in two to three sentences may stop talking gradually.
      • A child who liked to cuddle may completely oppose physical contact.
    • The child may lose at least two of the following acquired skills:
      • Motor abilities
      • Playing abilities
      • Social and self-care abilities
      • Expressive language skills
      • Receptive language skills
      • Control of the bowels or bladder
    • The child may have an abnormal function in at least two of the following:
      • Communication
      • Social interaction
      • Repetitive interests or behaviors
  4. Kanner’s syndrome:
    • Kanner’s syndrome is also referred to as classic autistic disorder.
    • Children with Kanner's syndrome will appear smart, attentive, and clever, with the disorder's underlying traits such as:
      • Inability to form emotional attachments with people
      • Uncontrollable speech
      • Obsession with handling objects
      • Communication and interpersonal difficulties
      • A high level of rote memory and visuospatial skills with significant learning problems in other areas
  5. Pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS):
    • When a kid with learning and behavioral difficulties does not fulfill all the diagnostic criteria for a particular category of autism, then the diagnosis made will be PDD-NOS.
    • PDD-NOS was the diagnosis given to people who fit into this group and were thought to have milder symptoms than those with ASD.
    • Symptoms of PDD-NOS may include:
      • Unusual social behavior
      • Improper development of skills such as motor, sensory, visual-spatial organizational, cognitive, social, academic, and behavioral
      • Communication problems
      • Underdeveloped speech and language skills
      • Persistent and repetitive actions such as opening and closing doors repeatedly
      • Abnormal sensitivity to taste, sight, sound, smell, and/or touch

What is autism spectrum disorder?

Autism, also referred to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a complex neurological condition that affects the development of the brain.

ASD is not a single condition but a group of disorders that are all connected. 

  • It is most commonly connected to difficulties with social relationships, ineffective verbal or nonverbal communication, and behavioral issues.
  • Some of these issues include repeated actions and narrowly focused interests. 
  • Children with ASD can exhibit a wide range of symptoms early in development and affect everyday functioning.

ASD is seen in all ethnicities irrespective of socioeconomic status. It is predominantly seen in men, who are affected four times more than women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 1 in every 59 children in the United States meets the criteria for ASD.

How to diagnose autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be difficult to diagnose because there is no medical test, such as a blood test, to do so. To determine a diagnosis, doctors examine the child's developmental history and behavior.

ASD can occasionally be recognized in children as early as 18 months. However, in many children, the diagnosis may not be made until they reach adulthood. Because of this delay, children with ASD may not receive the necessary early intervention.

Signs of ASD include:

  • Avoid direct eye contact
  • Have limited words or difficulty communicating with words
  • Become agitated by slight changes in routine
  • Very little compassion toward other children or caregivers
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Have co-occurring disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety or depression, or conduct disorder

Developmental monitoring

Parents, elders, and caregivers around children should monitor their development and see whether they reach usual developmental milestones in playing, learning, speaking, acting, and mobility. Seek the help of a professional if you observe any sign of a problem or missing a milestone.

Developmental screening

Professionals screen your child by using a formal questionnaire to check for developments such as language, movement, thinking, behavior, and emotions. Developmental screening can be performed by a doctor or nurse, but it can also be performed by other workers in health care, community, or schools.

What are the treatment options for autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has no cure, and there is no clear-cut treatment for it. Treatment of ASD depends on the symptoms of an individual.

Treatment options for ASD may include:

  • Behavioral and communication therapy: These programs educate children on how to behave and improve communication skills. A reward-based incentive system (applied behavior analysis) may improve learning abilities and apply these skills to various settings.
  • Educational therapy: Highly organized educational programs may improve social skills, communication, and behavior. Children who received such programs in preschool have shown good results.
  • Family therapy: Family members are counseled to take an initiative to interact with children and teach them social skills, discipline, daily living, and communication.
  • Other therapies: A psychologist can advise you on how to deal with problematic conduct. Speech therapy and physical therapy may improve communication skills and improve mobility that helps with daily living.
  • Medications: There is no medicine to cure ASD. However, the child may be given certain medications such as antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants depending on their symptoms.


Parenting Guide: Healthy Principles That Work See Slideshow
Medically Reviewed on 11/30/2021
Image Source: iStock Images

What are the 5 Types of Autism? https://www.integrityinc.org/what-are-the-5-types-of-autism/#:~:text=There%20are%20five%20major%20types,developmental%20disorder%20%E2%80%93%20not%20otherwise%20specified.

Autism spectrum disorder: https://www.apa.org/topics/autism-spectrum-disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD): https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/screening.html#:~:text=Diagnosing%20autism%20spectrum%20disorder%20(ASD,at%2018%20months%20or%20younger.