Autistic Disorder One Term Many Meanings

Though autistic disorder is often thought of as a single condition, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in fact refers to five different kinds of autism.  When most people think about autism, they’re only thinking about one type – the kind they saw in the movie Rainman – and don’t realize that this is only a fifth of the disorders to which autism truly refers. 

The first type of autism is called Classic Autism.  It’s also known as Kanner’s autism, or Kanner’s disorder after a doctor who researched the condition in the 1930s through the 1940s.  Classic autism is one of the lower functioning forms in the spectrum, and is identified by its high level of social and communication issues.  Children with the classic autistic disorder rarely interact with the majority of people.  They often suffer from poor motor skills and frequently repeat actions and motions.  They are also generally reluctant to make eye contact and may display temper tantrums when they experience a change in their usual routine or environment. Though some individuals with classic autism are completely verbal, many struggle to communicate through speech, and others cannot speak at all. 

The second form of autism is referred to as Rett’s Syndrome.  This type off autistic disorder is another low-functioning one.  Rett’s is exclusive to females and often occurs in conjunction with mental retardation.  Rett’s girls are typically impaired in their movements and will rarely communicate verbally.  Studies have concluded that Rett’s is passed on genetically, though no hypothesis has yet to be proven regarding the reason that it occurs only in girls when all other types of autism occur in boys 75 percent of the time.

The third kind of autistic disorder is Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.  Children with this form of autism often develop normally, or are diagnosed with Classic Autism or Rett’s Syndrome.  However, the diagnosis changes with the speech and motor skill problems that accelerate. Regression occurs between the ages of two and four for an unknown reason, though it is suspected that it may be brought about by illness or types of surgery.  This hypothesis has yet to be proven.

The fourth form of autistic disorder is Asperger’s Syndrome.  It is easy to misdiagnose children with this disorder as they generally have better social and communication skills than other autistic children, but they still face limitations.  It typically isn’t until these children begin school that these limitations start to become obvious.  Children with Asperger’s often do very well with behavioral treatments and are able to exist quite well within a normal lifestyle when they begin these therapies as early as possible.

The last form of autistic disorder is also the most vague.  It is called PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified) and is the diagnosis given to children who are believed to have autism but whose condition does not fit the typical definition of the other four types of autistic disorder.  These children may have some symptoms that match some of the autism forms, but do not have a specific kind of autism that can be diagnosed.

Part of the understanding of autism comes along with the knowledge of where the disorder may have come from and what can worsen the symptoms.  There are many different theories, including the impact that allergies can have on an autistic child.

For some autistic people and relatives of those on the spectrum the autism disorder classifications are two broad and there is a belief that effective treatments are unlikely to be discovered until the spectrum is broken down further. A common phrase within the autism arena goes like this…‘when you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism’. This phrase highlights the diversity of symptoms and abilities of people grouped together under the spectrum umbrella and confirms the complexity of this disorder.

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