The 3 Levels of Autism | The DSM-5 “Severity Levels” of Autism

When little man was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, the paperwork I was given gave him a diagnosis I had never heard of.  He was diagnosed 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.  Since then, I hear this questions quite often: “What are the different levels of autism and what do they mean?”

 The different levels of autism

For the longest time, Autism was broken down into several different diagnosis 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 defined.

What is the DSM-5

The DSM-5 (published in May 2013) is the official publication of the American Psychiatric Association which defines psychiatric and developmental disorders.   This is where psychologists and psychiatrist determine an individual’s diagnosis.   Insurers and service providers use the DSM-5 to determine the types of services and severity of a diagnosis.

The Levels of Autism

Level 1: Requiring Support

Social: An individual with this diagnosis will have deficits in social communication that cause them noticeable impairments.  They show difficulties with starting social interactions and have difficulties with properly interacting with peers.   They will likely be verbal, but could have difficulties with using language in a proper manner.

Behavior/Interest:  An individual with this diagnosis will have repetitive type behaviors and routines/rituals that interfere with day-to-day life.  This can include things such as difficulty with transitions and inflexible behaviors.

Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support

Social: An individual with this diagnosis will have deficits in social communication, that will include both verbal and nonverbal.  These impairments are noticeable even with extra supports in place for the individual.  The individual will have difficulties with starting social interactions and have difficulties with properly interacting with peers.

Behavior/Interest:  An individual with this diagnosis will have repetitive type behaviors and routines/rituals that interfere with day-to-day life.  This can include things such as difficulty with transitions and inflexible behaviors.  These behaviors will however be frequent enough to be noticed by those around them.  When these behaviors are interrupted, the individual will become frustrated and have difficulty with being redirected from the item of interest.

Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support

Social: An individual with this diagnosis will have severe deficits in social communication, that will include both verbal and nonverbal communication.  This causes severe limitations in social interactions with others and will have very little response to social interactions from others.

Behavior/Interest:  An individual with this diagnosis will have inflexible behaviors, very restrictive  routines/rituals, extreme difficulty change and transitions, or other restricted behaviors that severely interfere with functioning in all areas. The individual will have extreme difficulty with being redirected from an item of interest.

The different levels of autism

The different levels of autism of raise a few questions.  What about those individuals that fall in between these two of these categories?  The good thing is that the American Psychiatric Association is constantly collecting data from doctors, parents, and patients to see how well these levels are working.

What do you think of the levels of autism? Let us know in the comments below

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