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The 3 Levels of Autism Explained

Autism is a diagnosis that often carries a certain connotation. Those who are unfamiliar with the nuances of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may assume that all children on the spectrum participate in repetitive behaviors, don’t make eye contact, and are largely non-verbal. While these signs can certainly be present, there are many children who fall within the spectrum whose symptoms are far milder and even those whose symptoms are more severe. It’s a wide and diverse range of possible complications, and despite what some may think, children within the spectrum do not all fall into neat little categories. For that reason, the classifications of ASD have changed significantly over the years.

Previous Autism Spectrum Disorder Terminology

Much of the misconception surrounding ASD comes from terminology that was used prior to 2013. In this prior classification system, children fell into one of the following three categories:

  1. Autistic Disorder – More severe cases of ASD were previously classified as an autistic disorders. The condition was often defined by communication troubles, repetitive behaviors, and social challenges among other symptoms.
  2. Asperger’s Syndrome – On the opposite end of the spectrum was Asperger’s syndrome which was characterized by milder symptoms that may impact an individual’s communication or social skills.
  3. Pervasive Development Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) – For children who fell in the middle and didn’t fully meet the requirements for either autistic disorder or Asperger’s, a diagnosis of PDD-NOS was often given.

Current Classifications of Autism Spectrum Disorder

While the old system of classification may seem a little more cut-and-dried, the subtle differences that often distinguished one from the other left room for a lot of confusion and much were open to interpretation. To address this, ASD is now categorized into three different levels, indicating what level of support a patient may need.

  1. ASD Level 1 – Level 1 ASD is currently the lowest classification. Those on this level will require some support to help with issues like inhibited social interaction and lack of organization and planning skills.
  2. ASD Level 2 – In the mid-range of ASD is Level 2. At this level, individuals require substantial support and have problems that are more readily obvious to others. These issues may be trouble with verbal communication, having very restricted interests, and exhibiting frequent, repetitive behaviors.
  3. ASD Level 3 – On the most severe end of the spectrum is Level 3 which requires very substantial support. Signs associated with both Level 1 and Level 2 are still present but are far more severe and accompanied by other complications as well. Individuals at this level will have limited ability to communicate and interact socially with others.

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