The CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network estimates that roughly 1 in 44 children, which is 2.3% of children in the United States have some degree of autism spectrum disorder. Though there are different levels of autism based on the type and severity of symptoms. It’s even common for children to have different severity of symptoms within each level, which makes every form of autism just a little bit unique.

Severe autism spectrum disorder is often defined as Autism Level 3. This classification is often used to describe a person who is largely nonverbal or has very limited speech. This typically restricts social communication skills and can make it challenging for them to reach certain key milestones.

Severe autism level 3 typically includes a variety of sensory processing issues as well as extreme difficulty adapting to changes in the person’s routine. This can often lead to issues with aggression, running or wandering away, as well as a heightened risk of self-injury.

Many individuals with severe autism level 3 require significant support from clinicians, specialists, and family members. Even with significant success most individuals with severe autism are unable to live independently. Some even require 24-hour care throughout their lifetime.

In this article, we’ll explore the symptoms and severity of autism level 3. We’ll also take a closer look at the therapeutic options available for people with severe autism and the resources available for their support team.

What Are The Different Levels of Autism Spectrum Disorder

The symptoms of autism spectrum disorder are often classified into three different levels.

Level 1 autism is reserved for individuals with more high-functioning cognitions and speech skills with the potential to be independent.

Level 2 autism defines individuals who require substantial support and have problems that are more readily obvious to others.

Level 3 autism is reserved for individuals with the most debilitating form of the disorder. These are individuals with a severe inability to communicate effectively and struggle to perform basic self-care. They tend to need the most significant amount of support and supervision.

What Are Autism Level 3 Symptoms?

Level 3 autism symptoms tend to be the most severe and require the most support from clinicians and family support members. They also tend to need the most access to resources to maximize their potential skills.

Speech & Social Symptoms

Most individuals with autism spectrum disorder have some degree of difficulty with developing social skills and communication. Though individuals with severe autism are most likely to be nonverbal or are completely incapable of using spoken language. Some might not be able to notice the people around them.

Sensory Dysfunction

The majority of individuals with severe autism level 3 also have sensory dysfunction. This could manifest as being too sensitive to or not sensitive enough to stimuli such as light, smell, sound, taste, and even touch.
Some individuals with autism level 3 struggle with interoception, which is the internal body cues for things like hunger, thirst, or the need to use the bathroom.
Some experience problems with proprioception causing a disconnect with their self-movement, physical action, force, or understanding of their location.
Vestibular symptoms of sensory dysfunction can affect balance, spatial orientation, and coordination.

Cognitive & Communication Symptoms

Some individuals with autism have an above-average IQ. Though most have an IQ of around 75. This includes individuals with severe autism level 3, who tend to have low to very low IQ scores.

Though it can still be possible for individuals with severe autism to learn how to communicate in some limited fashion. This might involve the use of sign language, spelling boards, picture boards, or other tools like augmentative and alternative communication devices.

Symptoms of Repetitive Behavior

Many individuals with level 3 autism engage in repetitive actions and self-stimulatory behaviors. This can manifest in a variety of ways. A higher functioning individual might flap their hands, rock back and forth, or perhaps flick their fingers. Sometimes these repetitive behaviors are even used as a coping mechanism or self-soothing technique.

Physical Symptoms

Individuals with severe autism level 3 also tend to manifest physical symptoms such as sleeplessness, epileptic seizures, or gastrointestinal issues. Sometimes their struggles with communicating lead to physical injuries that go undetected or undiagnosed. When the individual experiences physical pain, or discomfort from these undetected conditions it often worsens their behavioral issues.

Treating Severe Autism Level 3

It’s important to understand that there isn’t a cure for severe. Though there are a lot of medical and non-medical treatment options that can decrease symptoms as well as help them develop new skills that improve their quality of life.

Medications to Help Treat Autism

Several medications can help lessen symptoms of anxiety and related issues. This might include anti-psychotic drugs and antidepressants can also be effective. Though these medications will need to be overseen by a physician who knows how to identify the signs of side effects, as well as measure the patient’s improvement.

Non-Medical Therapies

In recent years a wide range of non-medical therapies has been developed to help children with severe autism. Of them, applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy has come to be seen as the gold standard for improving the symptoms of autism in all three levels of severity.

ABA therapy uses a wide range of data-driven therapy techniques such as:

  • Sensory integration therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Play therapy
  • Physical therapy

Therapeutic Approaches To Improve Communication Skills

Many individuals with severe autism can eventually learn to use at least a limited amount of spoken language. Though they might still have a hard time asking or answering key questions. Sometimes they even repeat sounds without assigning meaning to them.

It’s often possible to help individuals who can’t speak to communicate through the use of sign language, picture cards, digital talking boards, and even special keyboards.

Improving communication skills through various therapeutic modalities can go a long way toward promoting success in meeting other important milestones.

Providing the Best Environment for Treating Severe Autism

A lot of individuals with severe autism level 3 also have sensory issues that can impede treatment success. By minimizing overt external stimuli you create an environment that is more conducive to therapeutic improvement. This might include things like

  • Lowering the lights
  • Reducing the ambient noise level
  • Providing predictable foods they enjoy
  • Weighted blankets for sleeping
  • Creating a Stable Routine

Many people with severe autism need a predictable, consistent routine to help them thrive in their therapeutic efforts. When they know what to expect, they are more amenable to focusing on the therapies at hand. In time, you can even start to find ways to change their routine, as a way to help them develop more coping mechanisms.