11 Apr 2024

Types of Autism Explained

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is defined by a range of symptoms and degree of needs. All individuals with ASD will share autistic traits, such as …

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is defined by a range of symptoms and degree of needs. All individuals with ASD will share autistic traits, such as problems with social communication and repetitive behaviours, but the level of support needed will vary from person to person. This makes it difficult to categorise autism into specific types. However, past diagnostic criteria have included descriptions of other disorders and syndromes which now come under the same classification as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Past Types of Autism

Classic Autism

Classic Autism, which is also known as Autistic Disorder, was used in early diagnostic criteria to describe individuals with “severe autism”. The symptoms of classic autism were distinguished by severe impairments in social interaction and communication as well as repetitive behaviour. In 2013, the diagnostic criteria no longer included Classic Autism, grouping it within the new definition of “Autism Spectrum Disorder”.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified

Pervasive Developmental Disorder, otherwise known as PDD-NOS or Atypical Autism, was first defined in 1980 as mild to severe pervasive deficits in the development of reciprocal social interaction and/or nonverbal communication skills. It was thought that PDD-NOS was a milder form of autism, although individuals struggled with communication, social interaction and repetitive behaviour. Other symptoms included uneven skill development, like delayed speech. It also included maladaptive or excessive daydreaming. Like Classic Autism, it was moved under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2013.

Asperger’s Disorder

Asperger’s Disorder was previously known as a milder form of autism. Individuals with Asperger’s were seen to have an average to above-average level of intelligence. While they struggled with social interaction and repetitive behaviour, they did not experience the same level of difficulty with their language skills. In 2013, the disorder was included under the criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder, in part due to the controversial past of Hans Asperger.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

In 2013, the diagnostic criteria changed, which integrated previous subtypes of Autism. The new diagnostic criteria has been revised to capture the range and severity of symptoms so that individuals who are diagnosed with ASD can access the level of support they need in daily life.

Essentially, the new criteria established how individuals with the disorder aren’t simply more or less autistic, the spectrum measures how much support they need in different aspects of the diagnostic criteria.

Level One Autism – Some Support Required

People with Level One Autism are likely to have difficulty with social interaction, although this might not always be noticeable to strangers immediately. Their social difficulties can include problems with understanding social cues like body language, facial expressions and tone of voice when communicating with others. It can also be difficult to understand things from someone else’s perspective.

Most people with Level One Autism have some sensory sensitivity to sound, light, touch, taste, or smell. Triggering sensory experiences like loud noises and bright light might lead to behaviours like covering their ears, avoiding certain textures or environments, or seeking sensory stimulation.

Repetitive behaviours like hand flapping or rocking back and forth demonstrate a need for repetition and rigidity. People with Level One autism often have strict routines and narrow interests due to an insistence on sameness. Their inflexibility can cause difficulties at times.

Individuals with Level One Autism may find it challenging to adapt to changes in routine or transitions between activities. They may become anxious or upset when faced with unexpected changes and may benefit from predictability and structure in their daily lives.

While someone with Level One Autism won’t need support to look after themselves, e.g. washing, eating, drinking and getting dressed without prompting, they may need initial support with budgeting and living independently.

Level Two Autism – Substantial Support Required

Someone with Level Two Autism is likely to require substantial support and will struggle socially even with support in place. People will find their social difficulties noticeable, even on the first meeting. Forming and keeping friendships can be particularly difficult for people with Level Two Autism.

Sensory sensitivity is more pronounced for people with Level Two Autism, meaning that someone with Level Two Autism might not be able to control their reactions to sensory stimuli. Like Level One Autism, people with Level Two Autism engage in repetitive behaviours. However, with Level Two Autism, this can be more frequent and pronounced. Again, they are likely to have narrow specific interests, and it’s often the only thing that they think about.

Change can cause someone with Level Two Autism to shut down or meltdown, which can render them speechless, and they might find it difficult not to hurt themselves or others.

Children with Level Two Autism are often developmentally delayed or regressed before the age of five and often have low intelligence, speech impairment or intellectual disability.

Adults with Level Two Autism often need prompting to support self-care, like bathing by themselves or remembering to eat and drink. They might need significant support and be unable to live independently.

Level Three Autism – Requires Very Substantial Support

Level Three Autism is used to categorise individuals who require the highest level of support. They are likely to be non-verbal and unable to engage in any social activities. They are either completely unaware of social activity or lack any interest in other people.

People with Level Three Autism are likely to always move repetitively to self-soothe without necessarily being aware of doing so, and their sensory sensitivity is extreme to the point of sensory overload daily, even in low sensory environments. During sensory overloads, people with Level Three Autism are likely to have extreme meltdowns or shutdowns to the point where they lose control over their bodies.

Individuals with Level Three Autism will likely have experienced severe developmental delays and, in some cases, have never reached developmental milestones like learning to walk or talk.

People with Level Three Autism are likely to need support eating, drinking and bathing and will need a one-to-one caregiver at all times.

How can the Autism Service help?

Here at The Autism Service, we offer the very highest standard of ASD assessments, with clinics located across the UK. Our Assessments are NICE-guideline compliant and carried out face-to-face so that you experience a full diagnostic assessment.

As a leading ASD assessor, we understand how important it is for you to have closure around your diagnosis so that you can get the support you need. Want to read more about our adult ASD assessments? Learn everything you need to know here or find a clinic near you today.

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