When talking about autism most people think of an autistic child in the classic sense, but that is only one of the types that are used to diagnose children with this condition in today’s world.
Though the film Rainman is probably the most well-known source that most people base their understanding on, there is more to this condition than what was depicted in the movie. Some children are very similar to Dustin Hoffman’s character, but there are many more different autism types and levels of function known today.
The Rainman type of autism, or classic autism, is otherwise known as Kanner’s, and was named for the doctor who studied it in the 30s and 40s. This is a lower functioning type of autism characterized by severe communication and socialization problems. These children are hard to reach, and do not interact with most people. They can be clumsy due to poor motor skills, and are prone to repetitive motions and actions. They might have tantrums when the smallest changes in their environment or schedule are made. Some do not speak, and others speak on a limited basis.
Rett’s Syndrome is also one of the lower-functioning types of autism. This happens in girls only for some reason, and is often paired with mental retardation. These girls are greatly impaired when it comes to movements, and they rarely speak. This autism type has been classified as a genetic defect. There seems to be no explanation as to why it only affects girls. All other types are attributed to males 75% of the time.
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder is something that is very shocking for parents, perhaps even more so than children who are identified early with Rett’s or Kanner’s. This is something that happens after a child has appeared to develop quite normally. They have the usual range of speech and motor skills for their peer group. Then at some point, usually between ages two and four, they regress into a severe form of autistic disability. No one is sure why this happens though some believe surgery or illness can bring it on. That is not true for all of these children, however, so nothing concrete has been proven.
The higher functioning form of autism is known as Asperger’s. These children can often be misdiagnosed in the early years. They have better communication and socialization skills, but they are still somewhat limited. However, many of these children aren’t diagnosed until they are in school when the difference their peers and themselves become more apparent. They often respond well to behavioral treatments, and can have a very ‘normal’ life if they are put through these programs and therapies at the earliest possible age.
There is another type of autism called PDD-NOS. This is when a child is thought to have autism, but their condition does not seem to be associated with the other four more definite types. They have autism, but they seem to fall out of each category. They may have symptoms or behaviors that fall within all of the other different autism types, but do not fit one type exclusively.
Most children with any of these five autism types will be diagnosed before the age of five, and the prognosis will depend on the function of the child, and how early they can begin to go through therapies.
There is no cure for autism, and because the reasons why some children develop this condition are so unclear, there is no way parents can prevent it from happening. More research is needed to find the origins of the condition. Once that can be found, perhaps a cure or more effective treatments can be administered, tailored to the different types of autism.