When our son received his autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, the paperwork I was given gave him a diagnosis I had never heard before. Our son’s diagnosis is Autism Spectrum Disorder: Level 2: “Requiring Substantial Support.” When his therapists and others would ask about the results, it seemed as though no one understood what that meant! Out of all the questions I hear, these are at the top of the list. “What are the different levels of autism” and “what do the levels of autism mean?”
Autism is a developmental disorder. It affects individuals’ behaviors and communication skills. These symptoms can range from mild to severe. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States today.
To determine levels of autism, doctors consider two things:
- Social Communication
- Restricted, Repetitive Behaviors
Understanding the Levels of Autism
For the longest time, Autism was broken down into several different diagnoses such as Asperger’s, PDD-NOS, and Rhett’s Syndrome. Since the release of the DSM-5 in May 2013 (for diagnosis purposes), Autism became defined as a “single spectrum disorder” in which levels were determined.
(The DSM-5, published in May 2013, is the official publication of the American Psychiatric Association which defines psychiatric and developmental disorders.)
Level 1: Requiring Support
Those with level 1 autism will have struggles with communication skills and socializing with others. While they may be able to carry on a conversation, they might struggle with the back-and-forth of the conversation. Along with this, they can have difficulties with starting social interactions. Also, they may have problems with adequately interacting with peers. However, they likely are verbal and just have difficulties with these social norms.
Autistic individuals with a level 1 diagnosis will have repetitive type behaviors and routines/rituals that interfere with day-to-day life. These can include things such as difficulty with transitions and inflexible behaviors. For instance, they may struggle with planning and organizing (executive functioning).
Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support
For someone with an autism level 2 diagnosis, they will need substantial support. The symptoms associated with this level of autism include a more severe lack of both verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Due to this, these impairments are noticeable even with extra supports in place for the individual.
These individuals will have difficulty coping with change to routine or surroundings. For example, loud noises and certain smells may cause them distress. When these behaviors are interrupted, the individual will become frustrated. They will have difficulty with being redirected from the item of interest.
They may have very narrow interests and struggle with discussing topics that are not of their preferred subjects. Individuals diagnosed with level 2 autism tend to also benefit from a variety of therapies. Occupational therapy offers help with executive functioning, hygiene, social skills, and even help with careers.
Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support
Autism level 3 is the most severe of the levels of autism. These individuals will need substantial support throughout their lives. They will have a noticeable lack of verbal and nonverbal communication skills, with many in this category being nonverbal. These cause severe limitations in social interactions with others.
Their restrictive behaviors will also be significantly more noticeable than other levels of autism. An individual with this diagnosis will have inflexible behaviors. They will also have very restrictive routines/rituals and extreme difficulty with change and transitions.
Someone with this level of autism may also need a caregiver who helps them learn essential skills that will allow them to be successful in school, at home, or at work.
These levels allow for a more accurate diagnostic description. However, the different levels of autism raise a few questions. What about those individuals that fall in between these two of these categories?
What do you think of the levels of autism? Let us know in the comments below. If you are curious to learn more about autism, make sure to check out what is Autism Around the World like and sign up for our newsletter below.