Because autism is a spectrum disorder that encompasses hundreds of varieties (with infinite variations within these varieties) it can be confusing for a person who does not experience ASD on a daily basis, either by having ASD or a close relative on the spectrum, to understand the many terms and branches of autism. I figured I would dedicate this post to defining the most commonly used and misused terms to help these people to become more familiar with autism.
Autism: This term can have two meanings: It can refer to the autism spectrum (defined below), or to the specific developmental disability. Although Asperger’s Syndrome and autism are similar, people with AS do not have autism, and people with autism do not have AS. However, both have autism spectrum disorders.
Autistic: An adjective used to describe a person who has an autism spectrum disorder. I am autistic, but I do not have autism.
Autism Spectrum Disorders: Any of the hundreds of conditions that are characterized by symptoms that are similar to those of autism. Common ASD’s are autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), and Rett Syndrome. While people with forms like Asperger’s are high-functioning and can lead relatively normal lifestyles, people with forms such as Rett Syndrome are usually severely disabled and require constant attention.
High-Functioning Autism: This condition is not the same as Asperger’s Syndrome. Children with HFA usually follow the same path as moderate-to-low-functioning children until by means of early intervention, aggressive treatment, or for reasons we can’t yet understand, they begin to learn more. While a diagnosis of autism can be “upgraded” to HFA, HFA cannot be “upgraded” to a diagnosis of Asperger’s because they are two very different disorders.
Asperger’s Syndrome: A high-functioning form of autism (not to be confused with high-functioning autism). The main difference between Asperger’s and autism is that people with Asperger’s Syndrome do not experience delays in language development as children with autism do. In fact, many children with Asperger’s are very precocious in the field of vocabulary and begin speaking earlier than their neurotypical counterparts.
Neurotypical: A person who does not have a developmental, psychological or intellectual disability.
Savant Syndrome: A phenomenon which causes remarkable talent in one or more of the areas of music, calculation (dates or arithmetic), or spatial perception. This condition occurs in around 10% of cases of ASD. Its “severity,” that is, the profundity of the ability, is usually directly related to the severity of the ASD.