What Types Of Autism Are There?

Not all types of autism are the same. In fact, there are several different types of autism, each with its own unique characteristics and challenges.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
February 8, 2024
min read

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects individuals in various ways. Understanding the basics of ASD, including its definition, prevalence, and the importance of recognizing different types, is crucial for parents and caregivers.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication, and the presence of restricted or repetitive behaviors. It encompasses a wide range of symptoms, abilities, and challenges that can vary greatly from person to person.

Prevalence and Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder

The prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder has been increasing over the years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 36 children in the United States are diagnosed with ASD. Boys are more commonly diagnosed with ASD than girls, with a ratio of around 4:1.

Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder involves a comprehensive evaluation by healthcare professionals, typically including observations, interviews, and assessments. Early diagnosis is important to ensure early intervention and support for individuals with ASD.

Importance of Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder Types

two person step on gray soil

Autism Spectrum Disorder is not a one-size-fits-all condition. There are different types of ASD, each with its own set of characteristics and challenges. Understanding these types can help parents and caregivers better comprehend their child's unique needs, strengths, and areas for support.

By recognizing the different types of ASD, parents can advocate for appropriate interventions and tailor support strategies to their child's specific profile. It allows for a more personalized approach to address their child's social, communication, and behavioral challenges effectively.

To provide a clearer understanding of the different types of ASD, we will explore specific types such as Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), Rett Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD). Each type presents distinct characteristics, challenges, and strengths, contributing to the individuality within the autism spectrum.

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder and its various types is the first step towards empowering parents and caregivers with the knowledge needed to support their child's unique journey. By embracing this understanding, we can create inclusive environments and foster the development and well-being of individuals with ASD.

Types of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Within the autism spectrum, there are different types of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) that exhibit distinct characteristics and challenges. Understanding these types can provide valuable insights into the diverse nature of individuals with ASD. In this section, we will explore the first type: Autism.


Autism, also known as Autistic Disorder or Classic Autism, is one of the most well-known types of ASD. It is characterized by persistent challenges in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. Individuals with autism often exhibit a wide range of symptoms and abilities, making each person unique.

Characteristics of Autism


  • Impaired social interaction and communication skills
  • Difficulty understanding and responding to social cues
  • Repetitive behaviors and restricted interests
  • Sensory sensitivities
  • Difficulty with changes in routines or environments
  • Varied cognitive abilities, from intellectual disability to exceptional skills in specific areas

Challenges and Strengths of Individuals with Autism

While individuals with autism face certain challenges, they also possess unique strengths and abilities. It's important to recognize and nurture these strengths to support their overall development.

Challenges Strengths
Difficulty with social interactions and communication Strong attention to detail
Sensory sensitivities Excellent memory skills
Difficulty with transitions and changes Ability to think outside the box
Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors Unique perspectives and creativity

Understanding the characteristics and challenges associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder can help parents, caregivers, and educators provide appropriate support and interventions for individuals with autism. By recognizing and harnessing their strengths, we can create an inclusive environment that allows individuals with autism to thrive and reach their full potential.

Asperger's Syndrome

Asperger's Syndrome is a type of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) that is characterized by specific patterns of behavior and challenges. Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome typically have average to above-average intelligence and exhibit milder symptoms compared to those with other types of autism.

Characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome

Characteristic Description
Social Interaction Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome often have difficulty understanding and interpreting social cues and nonverbal communication. They may struggle with making and maintaining friendships and have a preference for solitary activities.
Communication While individuals with Asperger's Syndrome typically have good language skills, they may struggle with pragmatic language, such as understanding sarcasm, irony, or figures of speech. They may have a formal speaking style and struggle with the give-and-take nature of conversations.
Repetitive Behaviors and Interests Like other individuals on the autism spectrum, those with Asperger's Syndrome may exhibit repetitive behaviors and have intense interests in specific topics. They may engage in repetitive movements, adhere to strict routines, and have a strong focus on particular subjects.
Sensory Sensitivities Many individuals with Asperger's Syndrome may experience sensory sensitivities, such as being overly sensitive to certain sounds, textures, or lights. They may become overwhelmed in stimulating environments or have specific sensory preferences.

Challenges and Strengths of Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome

While individuals with Asperger's Syndrome face challenges in certain areas, they also possess unique strengths and abilities.

Challenges Strengths
Difficulty with social interactions and communication Strong attention to detail and ability to focus intensely on specific interests
Challenges in understanding and interpreting nonverbal cues Exceptional memory and ability to retain and recall factual information
Struggles with flexibility and adapting to changes in routine Logical thinking and problem-solving skills
Sensory sensitivities and difficulties with sensory processing Honesty, loyalty, and a strong sense of justice

Understanding the characteristics and strengths of individuals with Asperger's Syndrome is crucial in providing appropriate support and fostering their personal development. By recognizing and valuing their unique abilities, we can create an inclusive and supportive environment that enables individuals with Asperger's Syndrome to thrive.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is a subtype of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) that encompasses individuals who display some, but not all, of the specific characteristics of autism. It is often diagnosed when a person exhibits significant social and communication difficulties, as well as repetitive behaviors, but does not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of autism or any other specific ASD subtype.

Characteristics of PDD-NOS

Individuals with PDD-NOS exhibit a range of characteristics that may vary from person to person. Some common characteristics include:

  • Challenges in social interaction: People with PDD-NOS may struggle with understanding social cues, making and maintaining friendships, and engaging in reciprocal conversations.
  • Communication difficulties: They may have delays in speech and language development, difficulty understanding nonverbal communication, and challenges expressing their thoughts and feelings.
  • Repetitive behaviors and restricted interests: Individuals with PDD-NOS may engage in repetitive movements or behaviors and may display intense, narrow interests in specific topics or objects.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Many individuals with PDD-NOS have heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as loud noises, bright lights, or certain textures.

Challenges and Strengths of Individuals with PDD-NOS

Like other individuals on the autism spectrum, those with PDD-NOS face unique challenges and possess strengths that should be acknowledged and supported. Understanding these challenges and strengths can help parents and caregivers provide appropriate support and interventions.

Challenges that individuals with PDD-NOS may face include:

  • Difficulty with social interactions and forming meaningful relationships.
  • Communication difficulties that may impact their ability to express themselves and understand others.
  • Sensory sensitivities that can lead to discomfort or distress in certain environments.
  • Executive functioning difficulties, including organization, time management, and problem-solving skills.

Despite these challenges, individuals with PDD-NOS also possess strengths that should be celebrated and nurtured. Some of these strengths may include:

  • Strong attention to detail and the ability to focus on specific tasks or topics of interest.
  • Unique perspectives and ways of thinking that can contribute to creative problem-solving.
  • A strong sense of fairness and justice, which can make them advocates for equality and inclusivity.
  • Dedication and perseverance when pursuing their goals and interests.

Recognizing and supporting the strengths of individuals with PDD-NOS, while addressing their challenges, is essential for promoting their overall well-being and helping them reach their full potential.

Rett Syndrome

Rett Syndrome is a rare neurological disorder that falls within the autism spectrum. It primarily affects females, with early signs typically appearing around 6 to 18 months of age. Let's take a closer look at the characteristics of Rett Syndrome and the challenges and strengths individuals with this disorder may possess.

Characteristics of Rett Syndrome

Rett Syndrome is characterized by a range of physical, cognitive, and social impairments. Here are some key features commonly associated with this disorder:

  1. Loss of purposeful hand skills: Children with Rett Syndrome often experience a regression in their ability to use their hands purposefully. This loss of hand skills may be accompanied by repetitive hand movements, such as wringing or rubbing.
  2. Motor difficulties: Individuals with Rett Syndrome may struggle with motor coordination and balance. They may exhibit abnormal walking patterns and have difficulty with tasks that require fine motor skills.
  3. Language and communication challenges: Rett Syndrome can impact language development, leading to a loss of previously acquired language skills. Some individuals may develop limited verbal skills, while others may become nonverbal. Nonverbal communication methods, such as eye gaze, gestures, or augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems, may be utilized.
  4. Social and behavioral changes: Individuals with Rett Syndrome often experience social and behavioral changes, such as social withdrawal, anxiety, and stereotypical behaviors. They may also exhibit difficulties with social interactions and struggle with understanding social cues.
  5. Intellectual and cognitive impairments: Rett Syndrome is typically associated with intellectual disability. However, it's important to note that the severity of cognitive impairments can vary widely among individuals with the disorder.

Challenges and Strengths of Individuals with Rett Syndrome

Living with Rett Syndrome presents both challenges and strengths for individuals affected by this disorder. Some of the challenges include:

  • Motor difficulties: The loss of purposeful hand skills and motor coordination challenges can impact daily activities and independence.
  • Communication barriers: Language and communication difficulties may pose challenges in expressing needs, desires, and engaging in social interactions.
  • Social and emotional difficulties: Difficulties with social interactions and understanding social cues can lead to feelings of isolation and frustration.

Despite these challenges, individuals with Rett Syndrome also possess unique strengths and abilities:

  • Resilience: Many individuals with Rett Syndrome demonstrate remarkable resilience in coping with the challenges they face.
  • Individual talents and interests: Each individual with Rett Syndrome has their own set of talents and interests, which should be recognized and nurtured.
  • Personal growth and achievements: With appropriate support and interventions, individuals with Rett Syndrome can make progress in various areas of their lives, achieving personal growth and accomplishments.

Understanding the characteristics, challenges, and strengths associated with Rett Syndrome is essential in providing appropriate support and interventions for individuals with this specific type of autism spectrum disorder. By recognizing the individuality within the autism spectrum, we can promote inclusivity and help individuals with Rett Syndrome reach their full potential.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), also known as Heller's syndrome, is a rare type of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It is characterized by a significant loss of previously acquired skills in multiple areas of development, such as language, social interaction, and motor skills. CDD typically occurs after a period of normal development, usually between the ages of 2 and 4.

Characteristics of CDD

Children with CDD experience a regression or decline in their abilities across various domains. Some of the key characteristics of CDD include:

  1. Language and Communication: Children with CDD may lose their ability to speak or have severe language impairments. They may also struggle with understanding and using gestures and non-verbal communication.
  2. Social Skills: Individuals with CDD often have difficulty engaging in social interactions. They may show a lack of interest in others, have limited eye contact, and struggle with forming and maintaining relationships.
  3. Motor Skills: Motor impairments are common in CDD. Children may experience a loss of coordination, fine motor skills, and gross motor skills. They may also exhibit repetitive movements or stereotypical behaviors.
  4. Cognitive Functioning: CDD can lead to a decline in cognitive abilities. Children may have difficulties with problem-solving, abstract thinking, and understanding complex concepts.
  5. Behavioral Changes: Individuals with CDD may exhibit changes in behavior, such as increased irritability, aggression, or repetitive behaviors. They may also display a decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities.

Challenges and Strengths of Individuals with CDD

Children with CDD face unique challenges that require specialized support. Some of these challenges include:

  1. Loss of Skills: The significant loss of previously acquired skills can be distressing for both the individual and their families. It may require intensive intervention and support to help individuals regain and develop new skills.
  2. Communication Difficulties: The language and communication impairments in CDD can make it challenging for individuals to express their needs, emotions, and thoughts. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) strategies may be helpful in facilitating communication.
  3. Social Interactions: Difficulties in social interactions can lead to feelings of isolation and exclusion. Supporting individuals with CDD in developing social skills and providing opportunities for social engagement is crucial.
  4. Educational and Vocational Considerations: Individuals with CDD often require specialized educational programs and individualized support to meet their unique needs. Transition planning for adulthood should also focus on identifying suitable vocational opportunities.

While CDD poses significant challenges, it's important to recognize the strengths and abilities of individuals with this disorder. Every individual with CDD is unique, and their strengths may vary. Recognizing and building upon these strengths can help individuals with CDD lead fulfilling lives and reach their full potential.

Recognizing Individuality within the Autism Spectrum

Within the broad spectrum of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), individuals may exhibit overlapping symptoms and co-occurring conditions. It is crucial to recognize the unique characteristics and needs of each person with ASD. This section explores the overlapping symptoms and co-occurring conditions and emphasizes the importance of personalized approaches to support.

Overlapping Symptoms and Co-occurring Conditions

ASD is characterized by a range of symptoms that can vary in severity and presentation. While each type of ASD has distinct features, there can be overlapping symptoms among them. These shared symptoms include challenges in social interaction, communication difficulties, and restricted or repetitive behaviors.

In addition to overlapping symptoms, individuals with ASD may also experience co-occurring conditions. These conditions are not exclusive to one particular type of ASD but can be present across the spectrum. Some common co-occurring conditions include:

Co-occurring Conditions

  • Intellectual Disability
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • Sensory Processing Issues

It is important to note that not every individual with ASD will have these co-occurring conditions. The presence and severity of these conditions can vary from person to person.

Importance of Personalized Approaches to Support

Recognizing the individuality within the autism spectrum is crucial for providing effective support and interventions. Each person with ASD has unique strengths, challenges, and needs. Therefore, a personalized approach is essential to ensure that individuals receive appropriate support tailored to their specific requirements.

Personalized approaches to support can include:

  • Individualized Education Programs (IEPs): These programs are designed to meet the specific educational needs of the individual with ASD, taking into account their strengths and challenges.
  • Speech and Language Therapy: Tailored therapy sessions can help individuals with ASD improve their communication skills based on their unique abilities.
  • Occupational Therapy: This type of therapy focuses on developing skills necessary for daily activities, such as self-care routines and sensory integration.
  • Behavioral Interventions: Behavioral interventions should be customized to address the specific behaviors and challenges exhibited by each individual with ASD.

By adopting a personalized approach to support, individuals with ASD can receive interventions that cater to their individual strengths, challenges, and needs. This helps to foster their overall development and enhance their quality of life.

Understanding the overlapping symptoms and co-occurring conditions within the autism spectrum, and implementing personalized approaches to support, is crucial for promoting the well-being and success of individuals with ASD. By recognizing and respecting the individuality of each person with ASD, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for everyone.


Autism is a complex developmental disorder that affects people in different ways. Understanding the different types of autism can help you better understand your own or your loved one's diagnosis and what challenges may lie ahead. Remember, every person with autism is unique and may have different strengths and weaknesses. With understanding and support, people with autism can lead fulfilling and happy lives.


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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