Since the updated publishing of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013 autism spectrum disorder has been more accurately classified. Today there are recognized levels of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Then each individual with ASD can then be further diagnosed as having either ASD level 1, level 2, or level 3. These distinctions are based on how severe their symptoms are, as well as how much support they need from clinicians and their everyday support team of family or other caregivers.

Of the three levels, Level 3 is considered to be the most severe form of ASD symptoms. Level one is considered to be the least severe form of ASD symptoms.

To understand on these levels affect the support and treatment strategies of the individual, we are going to have to take a closer look at each one. This will also require looking at a few real examples of the strengths and limitations that are unique to each of the three levels.

The Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder

An individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder often has behavioral challenges with how they act in social settings, challenges learning, and expressing themselves as well as understanding or empathizing with others. A lot of individuals with ASD share symptoms but can experience a wide range of severity in specific symptoms.

Each individual is different and so are their strengths and challenges when it comes to symptom severity.

Categorizing ASD into three different levels helps clinicians to diagnose ASD and develop appropriate therapies for the unique needs of the patient. These therapeutic approaches assist the person with ASD to make the most of their strengths and improve their social skills, language skills, and behaviors.

For parents, families, caregivers, and other members of the autistic individual’s support team, knowing which level of ASD symptoms helps prepare them for the types of challenges their child might face in everyday life.

The Differences Between High & Low-Functioning Autism

The 2013 Publication of the updated DSM-5 breaks ASD down into three levels of severity, with level one being the mildest symptoms with high-functioning capability and level three being the most severe with low-functioning challenges.

Level One ASD: Requires Support

Children and young adults who are classified with level 1 autism spectrum disorder typically have a hard time communicating appropriately with others. They might not say the right thing at the right time and might struggle to accurately read social cues or another person’s body language.

An individual with level 1 ASD is typically able to speak in full sentences and communicate, yet still has trouble engaging in back-and-forth conversations with others. They might try to make friends, with little long-term success in cultivating positive social relationships.

Individuals with level 1 ASD often find it challenging to move from one activity to another. They also tend to be aversive to trying new things. At the same time, they might also have problems with organization and planning, which hampers their sense of personal independence.

Level Two ASD: Requires Substantial Support

A lot of individuals who are classified with level Two ASD have more overt problems when it comes to verbal and social communication compared to individuals who are diagnosed with level one ASD. Many children with ASD level two will find it very difficult to change focus or move from one activity to the next.

Many of the children with level 2 ASD also tend to have very narrow interests. They also tend to engage in repetitive behaviors that can make it difficult for them to function in a wide variety of situations. Individuals diagnosed with level two ASD are often limited in their speech to simple sentences.

They also tend to struggle with nonverbal forms of communication. This includes the reluctance to point and use non-verbal communication, as well as struggling to read the non-verbal cues of others.

Level Three ASD: Requires Very Substantial Support

The Level Three classification of autism spectrum disorder is reserved for those who display the most severe form of autism. The majority of children in this category will have many of the same behaviors as those with ASD Levels One and Two, though the symptoms manifest to a more extreme degree.

Children with Level Three ASD typically display problems with expressing themselves both verbally and nonverbally. This can make it very difficult for them to function, interact socially, and deal with a change in focus or location. It can sometimes lead to frustration that further leads them to withdraw into their symptoms.

At the same time, repetitive behaviors also tend to be more severe in individuals with Level Three ASD. They also tend to respond negatively to changes in their entrenched routines.

ABA Therapy For The Diagnosis & Treatment of ASD

Today Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy is seen as the most effective approach for diagnosing and developing an effective treatment strategy for each level of autism spectrum disorder. ABA therapy used a scientific data-driven approach to behavioral therapy that can be customized to your child’s symptomatic severity.

The treatment plan developed by your child’s ABA therapist will be customized to each of their distinctive symptoms. It will include metrics to measure success in the short and long term. ABA treatment strategies are designed to evolve with the patient as they meet ever higher milestones. It can also be modulated to address specific challenges that your child might encounter along the way. The net result is the best possible chance for the highest quality of life for your child’s level of autism spectrum disorder.

Your child’s ABA therapist will essentially serve as a guide for their entire support team. This includes working directly with your child in clinical and real-world settings, as well as helping to educate members of your child’s support team to ensure that they have the highest degree of help for the level and severity of their symptoms.