A diagnosis of atypical autism is used for children who display most of the symptoms of typical autism, however, their behavior does not meet all the criteria. The most recent American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorder, DSM IV-TR, refers to atypical autism as pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Let’s have a brief look at what is atypical autism.
A child diagnosed with atypical autism does not satisfy the criteria for any of the other Autism Spectrum Disorders. However, it cannot be denied that children with PDD-NOS have a similar behavior pattern as those with typical autism. They may seem unemotional while interacting with others and may be unable to speak or maintain eye contact. They may also have difficulties in quickly switching from one activity to the other.
However, children with atypical autism differ from other children on the autism spectrum because the difficulties may begin at a later age, usually after the age of three. They may have the same difficulties in the areas of social skills, language development, and imaginative expression, but they may not be as extreme as other children on the spectrum.
No two children diagnosed with PDD-NOS are the same. The symptoms may be quite different from one child to the other, however, they can be classified into three broad categories including social behavior impairment, language development impairment, and imaginative impairment. They may also display impairment in sensory integration.
Social behavior impairment
One of the features used for the diagnosis of atypical autism is the level of impairment in social skills. Children with PDD-NOS have difficulties in socializing with others. They usually prefer spending time alone and have little or no interest in making friends. They find it difficult to maintain eye contact while interacting with others and they have difficulties in understanding non-verbal gestures. Another symptom of PDD-NOS is that the child has difficulties in understanding the emotions of others and may react inappropriately. The child may also appear unemotional while interacting with others.
Impairment in language development
The level of impairment in language development is also used as criteria in the diagnosis of PDD-NOS. Children with atypical autism display impairment in language development in the form of limited speech. They have difficulties in building a vocabulary. They may also lose a language skill they had previously gained.
Creative or Imaginative impairment
Imaginative impairment is another criterion for the diagnosis of atypical autism. Children with PDD-NOS find it difficult to understand sign language. They have limited or no pretend play or imaginative play abilities. The child also has difficulties understanding the subtleties of language and may require elaborate explanations of things.
Sensory integration dysfunction
Children with atypical autism may have difficulties processing sensory information. They may have unusual reactions to certain smells, sounds, colors, textures, tastes, or sights. They may also indulge in self-stimulatory repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping or flipping an object.
Coping and support for parents of children with atypical autism
A diagnosis of PDD-NOS can be delayed since most healthcare providers arrive at it only after eliminating other possibilities on the autism spectrum. This means that these children do not always get the kind of help as quickly as they should. However, once the diagnosis of atypical autism is given, the treatment can include medications, social skills training, and behavioral therapy. Understanding what is atypical autism is probably the first thing that a parent could do to help their child. Like the parents of other children on the autism spectrum, you will need the help and support of friends and healthcare providers. So, take the help of people you can trust and who can help you deal with the challenges on the way.
Autism Speaks: PDD-NOS
Yale School of Medicine: Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
Autism Society: Pervasive Development Disorders (PDD)