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The Different Levels of Autism

Apr 20, 2022

What Is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a range of neurodevelopmental disorders, mainly characterized by communication imbalances and impaired social functioning. Autism affects perceptions and interpretations of the surrounding world. ASD can make participating in everyday activities challenging.  

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, approximately 1 in 54 children get an autism diagnosis. While the condition is usually discovered at a young age, a diagnosis can also be received in adulthood.  

The Levels of Autism

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fifth edition(DSM-5), there are three levels of autism. The level of autism will determine the amount of outside assistance needed for daily functioning. The correct assessment can help doctors find the right support for autism.

Level 1: Needs Support

Level 1 is the mildest or the most “high-functioning” type of autism. Children with level 1 ASD find it challenging to communicate well with others. 

Such children may face difficulties:

  • Starting conversations with others
  • Maintaining interest in conversations
  • Responding as others would expect 

Challenges occurring with Level 1 autism can additionally make it difficult to make friends without proper support. 

Persons suffering from level 1 ASD may further:

  • Requiring a lot of help with organization and planning
  • Struggling to integrate into new environments
  • Feeling safer following routine behavioral patterns

Level 2: Needs Substantial Support

Level 2 ASD is associated with more noticeable social and verbal communication challenges than level 1 ASD. Even with proper support, difficulties in communicating efficiently and responding inappropriately may occur. 

Patients suffering from level 2 autism may:

  • Have difficulty decoding non-verbal cues such as facial expressions
  • Communicate in short sentences
  • Only engage in specific discussions

Due to the inability to cope with change, level 2 ASD may cause struggles with daily functioning. Changes may often cause feelings of distress.

Level 3: Need Very Substantial Support

Level 3 ASD is the most severe form of autism. Children in this autistic level will exhibit the same behaviors as those in the first and second levels but to an extreme degree. Due to extreme verbal and nonverbal communication challenges, difficulties in engaging in daily activities and social interactions may occur. 

Children with level 3 ASD may also:

  • Avoiding or limiting social interactions
  • Struggling with imaginative plays with peers
  • Showing a lack of interest in friends
  • Struggling to change routine activities
  • Experiencing severe distress when a situation requires altering focus or changing tasks

Is Asperger’s a Type of Autism?

Asperger’s syndrome was initially considered different from autism spectrum disorder. However, in 2013 the DSM-5 categorized Asperger’s and all additional types of autism under autism spectrum disorders. All Asperger’s symptoms currently fall under ASD.

Autism and Asperger’s syndrome are no longer considered different diagnoses. A previous Asperger’s diagnosis is now regarded as autistic. 

How Is Autism Diagnosed?

Given that it is a spectrum disorder, it can be tough to diagnose autism. The symptoms of autism may differ significantly from one patient to the next because while some patients may have high-functioning autism, others need a lot of support. At times, the symptoms of autism may remain undetectable for a long time, even into adulthood. 

Early diagnosis is essential for providing the correct type of support at the right time. While autism symptoms can appear at any age in children, most symptoms are detectable within the first two years. 

Two main stages of ASD diagnosis include:

1. Developmental Checkups – children typically receive a routine development screening when reaching different growing milestones. Doctors will start checking for signs of autism in children at about 18 months old. 

2. Additional Evaluation – if autism is suspected after a developmental checkup screening, a doctor will bring together a team of healthcare professionals to carry out additional assessments. Child psychiatrists and speech-language pathologists may be brought in for additional assessment. 

In older children, doctors typically work closely with teachers and caregivers to further assess potential signs of autism. Evaluating symptoms of autism in adults may pose an additional challenge because symptoms of autism may overlap with signs of other mental health problems. 


An autism diagnosis is a life-long condition, but the right type of support can help alleviate the symptoms that come with the disorder. There is no medication currently available for autism. However, behavioral therapy, education, and alternative methods like TMS can help relieve symptoms of ASD. 

Support can help control:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Anxiety


Behavioral therapies like Applied Behavioral Analysis can help improve social, communication, and learning skills for the different levels of autism. ABA starts with a consultation and assessment and develops a plan that aligns with specific needs and treatment goals. ABA relies on caregiver training to help reinforce desired behaviors outside of therapy.

ABA involves frequent evaluation to help improve or change certain behaviors and adapt approaches based on the response to certain interventions. Continual monitoring of progress and analysis will occur by the therapist as long as ABA is being utilized.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive therapy that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. TMS is associated with little to no side effects and is medication-free. A magnetic coil is placed on the top of the head to stimulate particular regions of the brain associated with autism. 

TMS for autism may be a beneficial form of treatment due to the lack of communication needed during therapy and the potential for symptom reduction.  TMS can help improve core autism symptoms and may be a promising treatment option. 

What is the Outlook of Autism?

Living with autism can be very difficult, but early intervention can significantly help the quality of life. With behavioral therapy or alternative methods of treatment like TMS, symptoms of ASD can be reduced. 

Level 1 ASD with treatment can live an independent life with minimal support. Level 2 ASD with treatment may require substantial support to help with socialization and changes throughout life. Level 3 ASD with treatment may still be entirely dependent on others to engage in daily activities, but treatments can help manage symptoms. 

Final Thoughts

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological and developmental disorder that causes social, communication, and behavior difficulties. ASD is further categorized into three levels according to the DSM-5 criteria. The three levels are grouped based on severity and the recommended type of support.

Brain Therapy TMS in San Diego, CA, offers TMS services for people struggling with an autism spectrum disorder. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with autism, reach out to Brain Therapy TMS today. Our team can answer any questions you may have and give you a better understanding of our program.

Considering TMS Treatment? Schedule a Consultation!

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