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The 3 Types of Children on the Autism Spectrum

“Are most children on the autism spectrum basically the same with respect to symptoms and level of functioning, or are there significant differences from one child to the next?”

Active  -  Aloof  -  Passive
Kids with Aspergers (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) demonstrate widely differing levels of skills and severity of symptoms. These children demonstrate impairments in relationships to peers, the use of nonverbal communicative behaviors within their social exchanges, the use of imitation, and symbolic or dramatic play.

Social interactions are characterized by low rates of both initiation and response. This is most marked in interactions for the purpose of sharing experiences and establishing interpersonal connection.

The use of nonverbal communication (e.g., gestures, emotional expressions) is affected in AS/HFA kids, both expressively and receptively. These children use fewer nonverbal gestures and a more limited range of facial expressions in their communications than neurotypical (non-autistic) kids.

Kids with AS/HFA appear to pay less attention to other’s emotional displays, and they tend to demonstrate fewer acts of empathy or shared emotion. Kids with AS/HFA also demonstrate less imitation of other’s actions, movements, and vocalizations.

There are wide-ranging differences in the levels of play skills seen in kids with AS/HFA. However, functional play and other “object play” are not impaired relative to neurotypical children. Only the production of “symbolic play acts” is markedly deficient.

Sensorimotor play also appears to be affected, with more repetitive and immature play seen in kids with AS/HFA. Given the importance of symbolic play for normal development, this is an important target of early intervention for AS/HFA kids.

There are wide-ranging differences within the group of kids with AS/HFA in their social interests and behaviors. In terms of general sociability, there are 3 sub-groupings of these kids based on social interests:
  1. Active but odd: This group makes initiations and responds to others. They are interested in interactions and seek them out, but their ways of carrying out the interactions are unusual in their odd language, obsessive topics, and lack of understanding of others.
  2. Aloof: This group is indifferent in all situations, particularly marked with peers, though approaching to get needs met and often enjoying physical interactions.
  3. Passive: This group involves kids who initiate few social interactions, but respond positively to the approaches from others.

The descriptions of these groups imply developmental differences, IQ scores, language levels, and patterns of brain function. The descriptions also imply differences in context (e.g., a youngster may be detached from friends, but passively responsive to grown-ups) as well as differences in temperament and amount of negative behavior displayed in social interactions.

Characterizing the patterns in this way is useful to parents, teachers and therapists, because it helps to focus interventions and set priorities. 

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:


•    Anonymous said... My boy is closest to 3. This is very interesting
•    Anonymous said... My aspergers son is closest to 1, craves company and social situations. He becomes obsessed with games and collecting the latest craze to ensure he can not be left out conversations. Being left out of something is taken as a huge personal insult. If a group of friends go somewhere together without him even something as simple as the park or swimming pool, it can trigger a full on melt down. Yet he can really struggle to grasp the social interactions. If he is with us and close friends he can show his stress but if with less well known people he will hold it in and explode at home for hours, recalling it for days, weeks and sometimes even years. It's very hard because people do not see that he's holding it in, they just see an 'ordinary' child who can speak a little 'old fashioned' at times or get a little pushy and shouty. They don't seem to notice the twitching, worry or anger in his voice when he's stressed. Wouldn't change him for all the world though.

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