Understanding the Levels of Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects an individual’s communication, social skills, and behaviour. Autism is a spectrum condition, which means that it affects individuals differently. This article aims to provide comprehensive information about autistic spectrum disorder, the levels of autism, and its characteristics.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), commonly referred to as autism, is a developmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behaviour. The onset of symptoms usually occurs in early childhood, and the severity and symptoms vary from person to person. The term ‘spectrum’ is used to describe the range of symptoms, behaviours, and levels of function that individuals with autism display. There are three levels of autism, and individuals can move from one level to another.

The Three Levels of Autism

The three levels of autism are based on individuals’ needs for support, communication, and social interaction. These levels are determined based on an evaluation of social communication abilities, repetitive and restricted behaviours or interests, and adaptive behaviour.

Level 1: Requiring Support

Level 1 is the lowest level of autism, also known as “requiring support.” At this level, individuals usually experience mild difficulties with communication, social interaction, and behaviour. They often have issues with initiating and maintaining social relationships and rely on direct guidance to understand social cues. They may also have narrow or repetitive interests but can manage them without impacting their daily functioning.

Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support

Level 2 is the intermediate level of autism, also known as “requiring substantial support.” Individuals at this level experiences more severe difficulties with communication, social interaction, and behaviour. They may have repetitive behaviours or interests that may impact their daily routine, quality of life, and social functioning. They have difficulty initiating and maintaining social interaction, making friends, and understanding social cues.

Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support

Level 3 is the highest level of autism, also known as “requiring very substantial support.” Individuals at this level require intensive support with communication, social interaction, and behaviour. At this level, individuals have very limited social communication skills and may display behaviours that require significant intervention. They have difficulty initiating and maintaining social interaction and may require a high level of support with daily living skills.

Autism Characteristics

Individuals with autism have unique behavioural patterns and characteristics that may affect their physical, emotional and social development. Some of the common autism characteristics include:

Communication Difficulties

One of the primary characteristics of autism is the inability to communicate effectively. Individuals with autism often struggle with understanding language, tone, and non-verbal cues. They may also have difficulties with initiating and maintaining conversations, expressing their needs, and understanding symbolic language.

Repetitive Behaviours

People with autism may display repetitive behaviours such as body rocking, hand flapping, or spinning. They may also have routines and rituals that they must adhere to, and deviations may cause severe anxiety.

Sensory Sensitivities

Individuals with autism often experience sensory sensitivities, which may include issues with sounds, smells, textures, or visual stimuli. They may become overwhelmed or distressed by sensory input, leading to feelings of anxiety, stress, or withdrawal.

Difficulty with Social Interaction

Individuals with autism may find it challenging to initiate and maintain social interactions. They may struggle with understanding social cues such as facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, and may have difficulties empathising with others.

Treatment and Support for Autism

There is currently no cure for autism. However, there are a variety of interventions and treatment options that have been developed to help support individuals with autism.

Behavioural Therapies

Behavioural therapies, such as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), can be used to teach new skills, improve communication skills, and reduce problematic behaviours. ABA therapy can also help children with autism develop social skills and appropriate behaviours.


Medication may also be used to treat behavioural and medical issues associated with autism. Medications may include antipsychotic medication to reduce aggression and other behavioural problems or treating co-occurring conditions, such as ADHD.

Educational Interventions

It is essential to provide individuals with autism with appropriate educational interventions that cater to their specific needs. Special education programs and assistive technology can be used to help individuals learn social, communication, and adaptive skills.

Family Support

It is vital to provide families with support and counselling to help them understand and manage their child’s condition. Workshops, support groups, and counselling services can be used to provide families with information and emotional support.


Autism is a spectrum disorder that affects individuals differently. The three levels of autism are based on the level of support required for communication, social interaction, and behaviour. Treatment and support interventions are available to help individuals with autism live fulfilling and independent lives. Understanding the autistic spectrum can help individuals with autism receive the appropriate support and treatments they need.


FAQs about Levels of Autism

1. What are the different levels of Autism?

There are three levels of Autism: Level 1 (in which support is needed), Level 2 (in which substantial support is needed), and Level 3 (in which very substantial support is needed). These levels refer to the degree of severity of the symptoms and how much support is required to manage them.

2. Can individuals with Autism change levels?

Yes, individuals with Autism can change levels throughout their lifetime. This may be due to treatment, therapy, and personal growth. It is important to note that there is no cure for Autism, but early diagnosis and intervention can greatly improve an individual’s quality of life.

3. Is there a difference between the levels of Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome?

No, there is no difference between the three levels of Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s Syndrome was previously considered a separate diagnosis, but it is now classified as part of the Autism spectrum. Therefore, individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome are diagnosed with Autism Level 1.


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3. Landa, R. J., Gross, A. L., Stuart, E. A., & Faherty, A. (2013). Developmental trajectories in children with and without autism spectrum disorders: the first 3 years. Child Development, 84(2), 429-442.