Any disorder that includes the word “atypical” is bound to be difficult to understand. Medical science usually reserves the word for conditions that sort of resemble one thing more than any other thing but doesn’t quite fit the accepted symptomology for that one disorder so it is that disorder, but not in the usual way. That’s exactly how it is with atypical autism.
Pervasive Development Disorder/Not Otherwise Specified is the official diagnoses for the condition of individuals who sort of have autism but don’t meet the medical criteria completely. Atypical autism is a subset of PDD-NOS. Autism is a neurological spectrum disorder and, even when typical, it’s rare to find two people with the same set of symptoms at the same degree of impairment. The usual symptoms are often classified into three divisions: social impairment, language impairment and imaginative impairment. Sensory integration dysfunctional is a usual fourth. All of these describe traits or visible behaviors.
Social impairment includes an inability to connect to others, a seeming disinterest in making friends, social awkwardness, a preference for solitary play and brief or inappropriate responses to questions. Besides lack of speech development, language impairment can include monotonous speech, overly pedantic speech, referring to self in third person, inability in using or understanding non-verbal communication.
Imaginative impairment describes behaviors like insistence on literal language, poor understanding of symbolic language, a need for routine, and absorption in detail to the detriment of understanding the whole. Sensory integration dysfunction is the over- or under-sensitivity to sensory information, strange preferences in clothing or food, frequent repetitive movements for self-stimulation, and/or lack of coordination.
When a person exhibits these traits, he or she is likely to have one of the conditions found on the autistic spectrum. If, however, he or she does not meet other criteria for autism, such as onset after the age of three, atypical symptomology or symptomology in very few areas, the diagnosis of atypical autism can be expected.
As with all types of conditions, atypical autism is treated symptom by symptom. There is no cure but focusing on therapy for the specific behaviors can result in great improvement. Some people with atypical autism need one-on-one therapy for many hours a week, while others may be able to learn in a group. Because of the inherent gullibility that comes with understanding only the literal meaning of words, it may be helpful for some with the condition to avoid integration with the general school population while others will benefit from inclusion with other children after some preparation.