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The 4 types of Autism and their characteristics

The 4 types of Autism and their characteristics

May 6, 2021

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a set of developmental disorders, with symptoms that are usually chronic and can range from mild to severe . 1 out of every 100 children may appear to be some type of autism spectrum disorder, although recent research in the United States claims that ASD has a prevalence of 68%.

Generally, ASD is characterized by the alteration of the individual's ability to communicate and establish social relationships . It is a complex disorder that affects the development of the individual who suffers it and, generally, it is usually diagnosed around 3 years of age.

There are different types of autism spectrum disorder . However, this classification has undergone some modification with the publication of the Statistical Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). Next we will review the different subtypes of ASD and the changes reflected in the DSM-V in its latest editions.


Changes in the DSM-V regarding autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

In its fifth edition, the DSM, published by the American Psychiatric Association, has incorporated changes regarding the ASD, since it has eliminated diagnostic criteria used for decades. In fact, over the years, the TEA has been subject to various modifications in this manual. In its first edition (1952), it was classified with the term "child schizophrenia", which is far from the current concept. Each of these changes has created some controversy, and the new edition of the DSM has not been an exception .

One of the most notable modifications with respect to the DSM-IV refers to the symptomatology of ASD. If in the fourth edition the diagnostic definition of the autistic spectrum disorder was characterized by three symptoms known as the triad: deficiencies in social reciprocity, deficiencies in language or communication and repertoire of interests and restricted and repetitive activities. In the fifth edition there are only two categories of symptoms: deficiencies in social communication (that is, it includes the first two previous categories although it presents some changes with respect to these) and restricted and repetitive behaviors.


In addition, if in DSM-IV autism belonged to the "generalized developmental disorders" (PDD). In the DSM-V, this definition has been replaced by "autistic spectrum disorders" (ASD), which is included within "neurodevelopmental disorders".

On the other hand, subcategories of this disorder have also undergone modifications. The fifth edition included five subtypes of autism: autistic disorder, Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, generalized developmental disorder not specified (PDD not specified) and Rett syndrome. In the fifth edition, Rett Syndrome has been dispensed with, leaving only 4 subtypes .

Types of disorders of Autism Spectrum Disorder

But, What characteristics present types of Autism? In the following lines we explain it to you in detail.


1. Autism or Kanner's syndrome

This is the disorder that most individuals associate with autism spectrum disorder , and receives in the name of Kanner Syndrome in relation to Dr. Kranner, a doctor who studied and described this condition in the 30s.

Subjects with autism they have a limited emotional connection with others , and they seem to be immersed in their own world. They are more likely to show repetitive behaviors, for example, they can organize and reorganize the same group of objects, back and forth for extended periods of time. And they are highly sensitive individuals to external stimuli such as sounds.

That is, they can be stressed or agitated when exposed to specific noises, bright lights or sounds or, on the other hand, they will insist on the use of certain clothing or colors or they will want to locate themselves in certain areas of the room without any apparent reason.

  • To learn more about the symptomatology of autism and some lesser-known aspects, you can read our article: "Autism: 8 things you did not know about this disorder"

2. Asperger's syndrome

Asperger's Syndrome is a more complicated autism spectrum disorder to diagnose and, sometimes, this diagnosis is usually made later than the previous case. This occurs because these subjects with Asperger have a medium (high) intelligence that can cause them to underestimate the difficulties and limitations presented by these subjects.

The deficit is, therefore, in the field of social skills and behavior, being important enough to seriously compromise their development and social and occupational integration.In addition, people with Asperger's Syndrome show shortcomings in empathy, poor psychomotor coordination, do not understand ironies or the double sense of language and obsess over certain topics.

The cause of Asperger Syndrome seems to be the dysfunction of several brain circuits , and the affected areas are the amygdala, the frontostriate and temporal circuits and the cerebellum, areas of the brain that are involved in the development of the social relationship.

Although media and communication have helped to spread an image of Asperger syndrome in which this condition is described as a mental disorder associated with high intelligence, it should be noted that most people grouped in this category do not score significantly above the normal IQ, and a very small number of them get very high scores.

  • You can deepen the knowledge of this disorder in our article: "Asperger's Syndrome: 10 signs to identify this disorder"

3. Child disintegrator disorder or Heller's syndrome

This disorder, usually referred to as Heller's Syndrome, usually appears around 2 years , although it may not be diagnosed until after 10 years.

It is similar to previous ASDs because it affects the same areas (language, social function and motor skills), although it differs from these in its sudden and regressive character , which can cause even the subject himself to realize the problem. Individuals with Heller's Syndrome can have a normal development until 2 years, and after this time suffer the characteristic symptoms of this disorder. Different studies conclude that this disorder is between 10 and 60 times less frequent than autism. However, its prognosis is worse.

4. Generalized developmental disorder not specified

When the clinical symptoms presented by the subject with autism spectrum disorder are too heterogeneous and they do not fit in their entirety with the three previous types, the diagnostic label of "generalized developmental disorder not specified" is used.

The subject with this disorder is characterized by having a deficit of social reciprocity, severe communication problems and the existence of peculiar, restricted and stereotyped interests and activities.

It should be noted that if the rest of the types of autism are already diverse in their own right, in the latter category it is even more important to take into account the unique characteristics of each individual, and not fall into the trap of letting the label completely explain the person. This classification system is just an aid that allows you to rely on a series of concepts to better understand this condition, but that does not exhaust all possible explanations about what each person is experiencing or what it needs.

Bibliographic references:

  • Martos, J. and cols (Ed) (2005) Autism: The future is today. Madrid: Imserso-APNA.
  • Monfort, M and Monfort, I (2001). In the mind 2. A graphic support for the training of pragmatic skills in children. Entha Editions.
  • Quill, K.A. (2000). "Do-Watch-Listen-Say. Social and Communication Intervention for children with Autism ". Brookes.
  • Szatmari, P. (2006) A different mind. Guide for parents. Editorial Paidós.

Autism & Pediatric Diseases : Different Types of Autism (May 2021).


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