The perception of autism within the medical community has changed a lot in recent years. It is a very complex condition, with causes and effects that are still not fully understood even to this day. So while some methods of treatment, such as behavioral therapy or even stem cell therapy have been successfully administered, these are not cures, and do not make autism go away; they only manage the condition.
In the same way, autism, because of its broad range of symptoms and its complexity is not a disease and does not have a single cure. Even if stem cell therapy works, for example, that’s not a universal solution, and to apply it to every person diagnosed with autism would do more harm than good. Autism can’t be cleared up with a universal solution in the same way an infection is cleared up with a shot of antibiotics.
A New Form Of Diagnosis
Today, autism is referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD, and everyone who is diagnosed with ASD is said to have different symptoms of varying intensities that fall along this spectrum. However, before 2013, this was not the case.
Before the decision to create one single ASD condition, autism was roughly divided into four categories. This was eventually abandoned in favor of the more broad, inclusive ASD diagnosis, because often there was so much overlap and inconsistency with trying to classify an ASD person into one of four types that it meant appropriate treatment might not always be administered due to a child or other patient being in the “wrong type.”
However, for many people before 2013, the four subtypes of autism were an important way to have a better understanding, in “shorthand” form of their condition. While these are no longer in current medical use today, these are the four subtypes that ASD patients used to be classified as.
This classification got its name in 1944, from Austrian physician Hans Asperger, who documented many patients with similar characteristics. Asperger’s is considered a milder form of autism. People who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s were usually able to function in daily life without the need for any special medical treatment or concessions, but their behavior would occasionally introduce challenges or distance into their life, especially as they got older.
A person diagnosed with Asperger’s would, in the past, have been considered very “eccentric” or “introverted.” They usually experience significant—but not necessarily crippling—communication issues, display passionate enthusiasm for areas of interest, and zero enthusiasm, or even tolerance, for topics that don’t. The “absent-minded professor” stereotype that seems unaware of anything beyond their own interests is an example of Asperger’s syndrome.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder—Not Otherwise Specified
Known more commonly as PDD-NOS, this was considered a step “down” from Asperger’s and was a more severe diagnosis for autism. People diagnosed with PDD-NOS could have the same characteristics as Asperger’s, but more severe, or other characteristics that might even resemble schizophrenia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, with a fixation on repetitive motions and behaviors.
However, these diagnoses never fit quite as neatly into “just schizophrenia,” or “just OCD,” due to additional symptoms, or a lack of intensity in existing symptoms for a full diagnosis. PDD-NOS was diagnosed when children displayed early communication difficulties, such as being slow to learn language or poor adaptive behavior, responding badly to changes in a routine.
The more severe form of autism, autistic disorder, or “classic autism” as it was sometimes referred, was the version most often portrayed in film and television. Repetitive motions, unusual speech patterns, and sometimes violent behavior are all the hallmarks that medical professionals were looking for, but to a more magnified degree.
With autistic disorder, typical parenting and educational methods weren’t always effective, and this required much more specific and intensive attention and treatment to manage.
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
The most severe form of autism, one of the chief characteristics used to diagnose it was a regression. Children seemed to be on the right track for developing language and social skills, then would lose them, usually between the ages of 2-4. As a result of this, communication was difficult, as was managing behaviors, since any disruption to a routine was often met with aggression. In addition to this, there might also be some physical symptoms, such as seizures that would occur regularly.
CDD as it was also called, was considered the most severe and “lowest functioning” of autism conditions, since it would impair even motor skills, resulting in mobility issues. Severe speech pathology is associated with CDD due to the rapid loss of communication skills, and both antipsychotics and anti-convulsants might be prescribed to deal with aggression, repetitive behavior, and seizures.
Today, all of these subtypes have been eliminated, and now everything is diagnosed under Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, with more attention being paid to specific symptoms and individual treatments for those symptoms, treatment has become more effective.