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Types of autism

Autistic disorders occur in a spectrum, ranging from mild and moderate to severe and with a variety of different symptoms. Mental health professionals classify autism into several types. This helps to assess the severity of a child's impairment and determines the best treatment to help the child develop the necessary skills for good functioning throughout life.

Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term that includes all the different types of disorder. However, often ASD is simply referred to as 'autism'.

The three main types of autism are:

  • Classic autism: A child is given this diagnosis if he or she has a lack of interest in other people, displays little or no emotions, has difficulty communicating, and exhibits repetitive behaviours that are evident before the age of three.
  • Asperger's syndrome: Also known as 'high-functioning autism', children with Asperger's syndrome have normal to exceptional intelligence and language skills. However, children with this disorder also have difficulties with social interaction and communication, and may show repetitive behaviours. For that reason, the disorder is often picked up later than classic autism.
  • Pervasive developmental disorder or atypical autism: This diagnosis is given to children who do not meet the full criteria for classic autism or Asperger's syndrome. But they may have difficulties with social interaction and communication, and/or display repetitive behaviours.

All types of autism impact on a child's behavior and ability to communicate. It's important to seek help if you are concerned your child has autism. Early intervention offers the best outcomes, no matter what type of autism a child has.

Last reviewed: October 2014

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