Understanding the 3 Different Levels of Adult Autism

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is complex and nuanced.

Usually, there is not just one but several issues that affect a person with ASD. These can include symptoms related to the condition. Additionally, there also can be secondary symptoms. These are typically connected to other mental health issues that also go along with autism.

To break down the symptoms of autism into more distinct categories, researchers have created a system. There are three categories, or levels, of autism. The criteria for these categories is formalized in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM-5.

Of course, nobody likes being labeled. And these classifications are not meant to discriminate. Rather, they help to better focus the care, attention, and services needed to best help someone with autism.

Let’s take a closer look at all three.

Level 1 Autism

The first level of autism is considered a mild form of ASD. Someone who would fall into this level of autism is capable of interacting with other people. However, they might still struggle and need coaching and assistance.

For example, in some of the following areas:

  • Problems with starting a conversation
  • Disinterest in interacting socially with other people
  • Trouble with dynamic and fluid conversations
  • Struggles with making friends and forming relationships
  • Difficulty with adapting to change or switching tasks
  • Inability to form and communicate complete sentences.

As noted, people diagnosed with level one autism do have the capacity to somewhat navigate life and social situation on their own. Yet, without support, they generally miss the nuances and details.

Level 2 Autism

Level two autism is a more acute category. People with this diagnosis struggle with everything mentioned in level one, just more intensely. Therefore, they need much more support.

Examples of issues for those with level two autism include:

  • Have more significant problems when it comes to both verbal and also non-verbal communication.
  • Talk in simple, single sentences
  • Elicit repetitive behaviors
  • Have more narrowed and specific interests
  • Struggle with change
  • Exhibit marked decrease of interest in social situations or interactions

Typically, it’s much more difficult for these people to navigate everyday life and social settings. Thus, they need much more support, including professional help with making adjustments.

Level 3 Autism

This is the most severe form of autism, and thus will require the most amount of support and professional services. Generally, people with this level of autism are not able to handle daily situations by themselves.

With level three autism you will see:

  • Capacity to only speak one or two words at a time
  • Rarely, if at all, social interactions on their own
  • Very rigid in behavior
  • Difficulty adapting to change, which causes intense feelings of distress
  • Distinct repetitive behaviors

A Spectrum of Symptoms

It’s important to note that there’s a reason that ASD falls along a spectrum. Someone might receive an autism diagnosis but fall within a broad range of symptoms.

For instance, they might be considered to have level one autism. That means they have the capacity to be much more independent than someone who has a level three diagnosis, which requires a lot more support and treatment.

Thus, it’s critical to understand that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to autism. Each individual needs a thorough evaluation and receive a treatment plan specific to their needs. It’s especially important that family members understand the scope of autism symptoms.

Support for Autism

If you’re looking for support with handling autism, there are many options available. In fact, there can be multiple support services at work at the same time.

Some examples of support for adults with autism include:

  • Academic help for those enrolled in college or university
  • Job coaching
  • Recreational services
  • Life skills training

Another important support is autism counseling. An autism counselor is someone who is trained and experienced in working with people who have the disorder. This is important, as a counselor can be another resource for understanding how autism works and in which ways it affects your or your loved one’s life.

An Autism diagnosis doesn’t mean someone can’t lead a rich and fulfilling life. However, it does mean that the person will need certain support and resources. Understanding the different levels of autism and how they affect someone helps with ensuring they get the help they need.

If you or someone you know has ASD, consider seeking out an autism counselor. I invite you to call / text us 256-686-9195.



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