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The 3 Functioning Levels of Autism

3 Children Levels of Autism
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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD or Autism) is a group of complex disorders characterized by difficulties with social interaction, communication, and behavior. Solstice Behavioral Health & Consulting has over 20 years of experience in the field of autism. We believe in providing individualized, evidence-based treatments for those impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and related disorders.

In order to better help understand your child’s development challenges, leading experts have defined 3 different levels based on each child’s requirements for support.

Functioning Levels of Autism

Level 1 – Requiring Support

A child who meets the criteria for level 1 is considered high-functioning. Level 1 is the mildest form of autism, which includes those who would have previously been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. At this level, the child may face social challenges including:

  • Initiating conversations with others
  • Responding appropriately in conversations
  • Staying on a topic or maintaining a conversation
  • Making & maintaining friendships

Other common difficulties include a need for behavioral patterns, discomfort in new situations & environments, and a need for assistance with organization and planning. Children categorized as having level 1 autism may understand and speak in complete sentences, but have difficulty engaging in a back-and-forth conversation. Often, children at this level are left undiagnosed because of their ability to communicate and complete some tasks without any assistance. Still, it can be challenging for the child to develop other social skills without being properly diagnosed and receiving the guidance & support they need.

Level 2 – Requiring Substantial Support

Children who meet the criteria for level 2 need more support than those with level 1 autism. At this level, issues with social communication and repetitive behaviors are more obvious than in children with level 1 autism. At this level, children will also have challenges both with verbal and nonverbal communication. Examples of this include abnormal or reduced responses to social cues including facial expressions and body language. 

Another significant challenge is the inflexibility of behavior. This includes more frequent and obvious repetitive behaviors and difficulty coping with changes in daily routine. This can include challenges with trying new foods, meeting new people, and transitioning from one activity to another.

Even with support, the child may have difficulty communicating as expected or appropriately. It is common for children with level 2 autism to speak in short sentences, fixate on only a few topics, and maintain appropriate behavior when speaking such as facing the person they are speaking with.

Changes from routine and their increased struggle with communication can oftentimes cause significant distress and overwhelm the child leading to difficult episodes of inappropriate behavior in an attempt to self-soothe. 

Level 3 – Requiring Very Substantial Support

Children with ASD level 3 will need the most support. ASD level 3 is characterized by severe challenges with social interaction & communication as well as an extreme inflexibility in behavior. At this level, children may be completely nonverbal or use only a limited vocabulary. Communication is reserved to meet immediate needs and is limited to a certain number of people. Initial social interactions will also be limited.

It is not uncommon for children with level 3 ASD to be extremely inflexible with behavior, especially while performing coping routines. Repetitive behaviors will interfere with the child’s ability to function and practice daily living skills.

Solstice Behavioral Health & Consulting offers after-school programs and groups that can assist your child in developing the social skills he/she has trouble with. Social skills groups, individual and group therapy, and parent training have shown tremendous results with many participants.

We Believe That Early Diagnosis & Intervention Is Key.