Atypical autism is one form of autism that is diagnosed at a slightly later age than the statistical diagnosis of autism in children. Autism involves impaired perception of sensory impressions and difficulties in communicating, expressing one’s own emotions and recognising the feelings and intentions of others. The first symptoms in atypical autism usually do not appear until the child is three years old. They usually persist to a greater or lesser extent until the end of life.

Symptoms of atypical autism

Autism is a dysfunction of the central nervous system – this includes both early childhood autism and atypical autism.

The symptoms of atypical autism are essentially identical to those of childhood autism. Children with atypical autism start talking later than their peers, are more interested in objects than in people, including immediate carers, do not follow a moving object with their eyes, avoid looking at people; they are particularly reluctant to look at people. Children with atypical autism also show a lack of sensitivity to pain. They dislike change – both in terms of the layout of objects in their immediate environment and their daily schedule. They tend to repeat the same words or the same play over and over again. They do not like to cuddle, often do not tolerate other people’s touch at all, are not interested in interacting with other children, have sudden tantrums and even aggression. They also display self-aggressive behaviour.

Atypical autism is usually diagnosed after the child is three years old, which is later than standard cases of autism. Often, this is because atypical autism is accompanied by other disorders and it is these that focus the attention of parents and doctors. Autistic behaviour is attributed to the disorder and it usually takes some time before a doctor diagnoses the child with atypical autism. However, it can also happen that a child develops normally up to the age of three, after which the behaviour changes and the symptoms of autism appear. Of particular concern should be the gradual or sudden loss of the child’s ability to communicate and build social relationships, especially a reluctance to play with peers.

Causes of atypical autism

The causes of atypical autism have not been fully understood and investigated by scientists. Risk factors for this condition include prematurity, low weight at birth, older age of parents, taking certain medications, and environmental pollution.

The most common genetic factors considered to cause atypical autism are a mutation called fragile X chromosome syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, mutation of the ADA2 gene and mutations of certain genes in the chromosome 2 and 7 region.

Risk factors also include toxoplasmosis in pregnancy, childhood cerebral palsy and perinatal trauma. According to recent scientific studies, there is no link to autism through vaccination.

What treatment is used for atypical autism?

Atypical autism is an incurable condition. Its symptoms can be alleviated, but they will accompany a patient diagnosed with atypical autism basically for the rest of their life.

If a child is diagnosed with atypical autism, it is very important to implement therapy as early as possible. A comprehensive psychotherapy tailored to the individual case is optimal. In any diagnosed case of autism, including atypical autism, it is important that the child develops at least a minimal interest in his or her surroundings and language and social competences, involving building relationships with peers and with carers.

Children with atypical autism vary in the severity of specific symptoms. Some children do not develop the ability to speak at all, others communicate only the most urgent needs, and it may be that they have their own way of communicating, for example based on gestures. They have difficulty expressing their emotions and reacting to stimuli from the outside world. The aim of psychotherapy is to try to open the child up to relationships with the outside world and to learn to express emotions and build interactions with the environment. The child is also taught to recognise other people’s emotions.