June 9, 2021

The Many Faces of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Understanding three common types of conditions on the autism spectrum 

Key takeaways:

  • Doctors refer to different autistic conditions as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)
  • ASDs are associated with certain social, communication, and behavioral challenges
  • Children with an ASD may have a range of symptoms, from mild to severe

There are three main types of ASDs:

  • Autistic Disorder
  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

Those who are unfamiliar with autism might assume that it is one specific condition. In fact, it includes a spectrum of disorders, which is why you might hear the term “Autism Spectrum Disorder” or hear someone described as being “on the spectrum”.

We will discuss three common types of autism spectrum conditions, their typical developmental and behavioral issues, and ways you and your child can learn to cope with the challenges ASDs may cause.

Defining Autism Spectrum Disorders

Until recently, the different types of autism spectrum disorders were referred to as separate conditions. Today, most medical experts refer to them as part of a group of “Autism Spectrum Disorders” (ASDs). Symptoms of ASDs include insufficient social and communication skills, learning difficulties, behavioral challenges, and more. Symptoms can range from relatively mild to severe.

It is important to note that every child experiences a condition differently and may show some symptoms and not others. There are three types of common ASDs. They include:

  • Autistic disorder
  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

Let’s take a look at each and discuss how they differ.

Type 1: Autistic disorder

This first condition is the most familiar and what people usually picture when they hear the word “autism”. Children (and adults) on the spectrum can display a range of deficits.

Signs of autistic disorder:

  • Delayed or no speech
  • Lack of facial expressions
  • Trouble making or maintaining eye contact
  • Hypersensitivity to sights, sounds, smells, and/or touch
  • Restrictive/repetitive behavior such as hand flapping, rocking, lining up objects, etc.

Depending on the severity, children with Autistic disorder may find it difficult to navigate learning environments, social situations, and more. They may have a strong need for repetition and routine. Changes to their routine may trigger challenging behavior. Most children with Autistic disorder have trouble with social and communication skills. Their trouble understanding their own emotions and those of others can make it particularly hard to form meaningful relationships.

Type 2: Asperger’s syndrome

Asperger’s syndrome is sometimes considered a milder form of Autism. Children with Asperger’s may find it difficult to engage with people in social situations. They may have restricted interests which can become a barrier to successful socialization.

Signs of Asperger’s syndrome:

  • Has difficulty with social situations
  • Can come across as rude, awkward, or insensitive
  • More comfortable talking about oneself  in conversations
  • Often displays obsessions with particular subjects/items/activities

Many people with Asperger’s also struggle with non-verbal communication, including facial expressions, body language, and hand gestures. Children and adults with Asperger’s can learn to pick up on social cues from others and to expand their interests with practice!

Type 3: Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

A diagnosis of PDD-NOS is given when someone’s developmental disorder doesn’t meet the criteria for autistic disorder, Asperger’s, or other spectrum-related disorders. A child with PDD-NOS may have mild symptoms in several developmental areas or may struggle in a particular area while showing few or no symptoms in other areas.

Children with PDD-NOS commonly display one of the following:

  1. Significant challenges with social development
  2. Significant challenges with language development

PDD-NOS is similar to Asperger’s in many ways, however, children with Asperger’s do not experience the same language and communication delays and mild cognitive impairment. PDD-NOS can also be similar to Autistic disorder, however, stereotypy and other restricted/repetitive behaviors are very mild or may not be present. The diagnosis is relatively new, and, unfortunately, the term PDD-NOS is frequently misused.

General signs of ASD

Some general signs may point to an autism spectrum disorder. Most children will show these signs even in infancy but will become more apparent around one year old (when most children begin talking and walking).

General symptoms:

  • A child doesn’t respond to his/her name
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Dislikes physical contact
  • Fails to look at objects when shown to them
  • Lack of facial expressions/unusual facial expressions
  • Repeating words and phrases
  • Trouble expressing needs
  • Difficulty playing “pretend” games
  • Trouble adapting to change
  • Emotional issues when dealing with change
  • Hypersensitivity to light, sound, smell, taste, or touch
  • Delayed speech and language skills or no skills
  • Losing previously learned skills

Look for these signs and speak to your child’s pediatrician if you have concerns. Early intervention can help your child learn the necessary skills to succeed in school and other social situations.

Get help with ABA Therapy

Lumiere Children’s Therapy offers Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy (ABA Therapy) to help children on the autism spectrum learn new social and communication skills and gain control over their challenging behavior. It also teaches parents and other caregivers how to respond to such behavior to aid the child in developing this control.

Our new service: at-home ABA Therapy

Lumiere recently added at-home ABA Therapy. Children can receive customized treatment for an autism spectrum disorder in the comfort of their homes. It is an ideal way to teach skills that are frequently used at home, including nighttime/morning routines, potty training, mealtime, other self-care skills (dressing, brushing hair, bathing, etc.)

Other benefits of at-home ABA Therapy:

  • Sessions take place in the same environment where your child lives.
  • You’ll both learn how to navigate stressful situations at home.
  • Individualized, undivided attention.
  • Help develop academic and play skills to encourage greater independence.
  • By learning skills in the natural environment, your child is likely to repeat those actions in settings outside the home.
  • More opportunities to “train” parents and other family members.

Start at-home ABA Therapy today

ABA Therapy provides a multifaceted approach to teach skills and reduce challenging behaviors. At-home therapy can benefit you and your child in many ways. A few examples: help your child generalize skills to the home environment, allow you to observe therapeutic approaches in real-time, target behaviors that occur exclusively in the home environment, and target daily living skills in the environment where they most often occur.  Whether you choose at-home or in-clinic sessions (or both!), you will have the benefit of working with one of our Board Certified Behavior Analysts and a team of Behavior Technicians who specialize in ABA treatment.

Contact us directly for details by calling (312) 242-1665.

Lumiere Children’s Therapy also provides other comprehensive therapies for children with a wide range of physical, emotional, and developmental conditions.

Our services include:

  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Developmental therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Social work
  • Augmentative alternative communication
  • Early intervention
  • Teletherapy

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.Learn more

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