Level 3 Autism: Guide to Treatment, Daily Life & Prospects

This article is a guide for parents on this particular level of autism. The goal of this article is to provide education and reassurance to families that have concerns about receiving an autism diagnosis or have just received a diagnosis for their child.

What is Level 3 Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects a person’s social interactions, communication abilities, and behavior. Its impact changes significantly from person to person. Within the autism spectrum, there are 3 commonly known “levels” that healthcare professionals use to describe the severity of the condition. The Level 1 classification refers to those who need a low level of support. The Level 2 classification is for those whose symptoms are a bit more severe and need a higher level of support than those with the Level 1 classification. Level 3 autism stands out as the most severe form, requiring substantial support. This level is characterized by severe difficulties in both verbal and nonverbal communication. Individuals at this level face significant challenges in most aspects of life, and may not be able to complete daily tasks independently.

Autism Level 3 Symptoms

Before discussing the Level 3 classification further, it is important to acknowledge that regardless of level classification, autism spectrum disorder has a significant impact on the lives of every person who is diagnosed. Each level requires support, and the typical struggles faced at one level should not be considered to be “less” or “more” autistic than others. In addition, it is important to note that labeling these levels in terms of functioning (e.g., “low-functioning” or “high-functioning” autism) is outdated and often considered harmful, especially by the autistic community.

For neurotypical children, developmental milestones start appearing within the first few months of life. Typically developing children begin making eye contact and babbling early on, and over time begin engaging in social interactions. They also show interest in others by looking or smiling at them. Within the first two years, they often begin using words and communicating their needs to caregivers. Children with the Level 3 classification may exhibit noticeable delays or absences in these areas. They might have a complete lack of eye contact, minimal to no engagement in social interactions, and a strong preference for solitary play. Speech and language development can be severely delayed or absent. They may not learn to speak and may not seek out interactions with others. 

In addition to failing to meet these developmental milestones, those with the Level 3 classification may also behave differently than neurotypical children. They may engage in repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping or spinning. They may also engage in more serious problem behaviors when under stress, such as aggression and self-injury.

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How is Level 3 Autism Diagnosed?

Many different healthcare experts can play a role in diagnosing autism spectrum disorder with the Level 3 classification. The child’s pediatrician is often the first step for parents seeking a diagnosis. They are usually the ones who refer families to child psychologists or psychiatrists. While just seeing a child psychologist or psychiatrist may be enough to receive a diagnosis, they may refer families to see other professionals for further investigation. Neurologists may also be consulted if there are neurological concerns such as seizures. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) may assess speech and communication difficulties and Occupational therapists (OTs) may look into sensory processing issues.

The diagnostic process typically includes one or more specific assessments. Some examples of diagnostic tools include:

  1. Autism Diagnosis Interview-Revised (ADI-R) – This tool focuses on reciprocal social interaction, communication and language, and repetitive and restrictive behaviors and interests.
  2. Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, 2nd Edition (ADOS-2) – This tool collects standardized and objective information about social communication skills, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors.
  3. Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) – This tool assesses social interaction, communication skills, and repetitive behaviors through direct observation of the child’s behavior.
  4. Gilliam Autism Rating Scale – Second Edition (GARS-2) – This tool is used to assess individuals ages 3 to 22 years and can determine the severity of the symptoms.

To receive a diagnosis of Level 3 autism a child must have significant difficulties in social communication and social interaction in multiple environments, restricted interests, and repetitive patterns of behavior. These traits must be evident from infancy or early childhood and must significantly impact the child’s daily life. 

Characteristics of Level 3 Autism

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People with Level 3 autism often have a hard time speaking and using nonverbal communication. Those with Level 1 autism may be able to engage in conversations, while people with the Level 3 classification often don’t speak or communicate with others. They may learn to communicate by using alternative methods like sign language, pictures, or electronic devices. However, even if taught these forms of communication, conversations may not include reciprocal social interactions. Those at this level may not be interested in having conversations and may limit their use of alternative forms of communication to communicate needs to caregivers. Their use of nonverbal communication may also be limited or absent.

In addition to communication struggles, individuals with Level 3 autism often have heightened sensitivity to their senses. Textures such as the feel of clothing, common sounds, or the taste and texture of food can be overwhelming and distressing. This sensitivity typically extends beyond what people with Level 1 autism usually experience. These sensitivities make daily life more difficult and require families to consider the sensory input their child may encounter in every environment.

Individuals with Level 3 autism also typically exhibit repetitive behaviors, along with a strong need for consistency in their routines, and restricted interests. These behaviors tend to be more pronounced and rigid compared to those with Level 1 autism. For example, they may frequently engage in actions like rocking back and forth or hand-flapping. They may also insist on following the same daily schedule, eating the same foods, or other daily routines. Adapting to even small changes can be challenging for them, potentially leading to significant distress and dangerous behaviors. This difficulty in adapting to change is more acute than in Level 1 autism, where individuals typically cope better with the changes. Those with the Level 3 classification may occasionally display difficult behaviors, such as aggression, self-injurious behaviors, or intense emotional outbursts. These behaviors are often rooted in struggles with communication, feeling overwhelmed by sensory input, or disruptions to their routines.

Impact on Daily Life

Children who are diagnosed with Level 3 autism encounter significant hurdles that deeply affect their day-to-day lives, which include their educational environment. In this setting, parents often find themselves working closely with teachers and school staff to make sure that their child receives the appropriate support. This collaboration often includes an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that helps to meet the specific needs of the child. Such a plan might include classroom accommodations, speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral intervention plans, group therapy, and so much more. The aim is to have every child placed in a classroom that can best serve their social, learning, and adaptive needs.

Beyond the educational setting, socialization and developing relationships are crucial to a child’s growth. For children with Level 3 autism, building and sustaining friendships can be especially challenging because of their profound social communication difficulties and preference for solitary play. Guidance in developing social skills is especially important for caregivers to consider. Specialized interventions and therapies may be beneficial and parents should take the time to look into what needs different services may meet.

Parental Role and Support

For parents of children with Level 3 autism, assisting their child in developing coping strategies is crucial. Raising children can be stressful in itself, but they also have to deal with the complexities of raising a child with significant needs. Managing stress and emotions often becomes a daily reality, given the challenging routines and communication barriers they encounter. Many parents find comfort and support by connecting with others in similar situations. This network becomes a valuable space to exchange advice and support. It may also teach them how to be the best possible advocate for their child.

Parents will also find themselves working closely with teachers and healthcare professionals to ensure the child receives the appropriate accommodations at school. This means having open lines of communication and a mutual understanding of the child’s needs. Knowing and accessing available resources such as therapy programs, community services, and government assistance can be a game-changer for the child and the family.

Treatment For Autism Level 3

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Finding the right treatment and support can make a significant positive impact on children with Level 3 autism. Beginning early intervention programs as soon as possible, and preferably before the age of 4, can lead to the greatest impact on overall function and learning. There are many different treatment options available to families. 

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is one of the most popular and well-researched treatments for autism spectrum disorder. It teaches children to communicate and interact with others, develop coping strategies, and can be crucial in decreasing dangerous or disruptive behaviors. Since many children with the Level 3 classification have behavioral concerns, ABA can make a tremendous difference for both the child and the family. For children with the Level 3 classification, it can be especially helpful in teaching them to communicate their needs in ways that most people would understand. This can be helpful for times when the child may not be in the presence of their caregiver, such as at school or with a childcare provider. ABA therapy is exceptionally successful in helping children with the Level 3 diagnosis, as well as those with additional diagnoses (e.g., ADHD).

Speech therapy is another popular and well-reached treatment for children with the Level 3 classification of ASD. This therapy helps them to better communicate with and understand others, regardless of whether they are verbal, or nonverbal. Speech therapists are often vital to the process of obtaining and training the use of augmentative devices for nonverbal children. They can also assist in other methods of communication, such as PECS, or sign language.

Occupational therapy can be beneficial for developing fine motor tasks such as handwriting, daily living skills, balance, and coordination. For children with autism, occupational therapists are frequently sought after for their role in assessing and targeting the child’s sensory processing differences.

By bringing together these different kinds of therapy, children with Level 3 autism can make incredible progress in their development and management of day-to-day tasks.

Positive Aspects of Level 3 Autism

Dealing with Level 3 autism certainly has its challenges, but it’s also important to remember that people with autism at any level can bring amazing contributions to the world. For instance, some individuals with Level 3 autism are incredibly gifted in particular areas. They frequently possess an intense focus on specific interests, which, when combined with commitment and talent, can result in great skill and expertise.

There are plenty of success stories of people with Level 3 autism that are truly inspiring. They demonstrate that with the right kind of help and understanding, they can do some incredible things. Others have turned their special interests into careers that let their impressive talents shine. Most significantly, many have broken through communication barriers and built strong relationships with their family and friends.

Conclusion

it is important to remember how to understand and support children with Level 3 autism. The role of parents is to advocate for their children’s needs, get help for themselves when they need it, and celebrate their children for who they are. Creating a world that’s welcoming and kind can make an enormous difference. This supports children in doing their best, being happy, and feeling valued in our diverse world.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Autism Level 3 a Disability?

Yes. Autism spectrum disorder, across all levels, is a developmental disability. While individuals with the Level 3 classification may make progress and have their strengths, they often require a substantial support level and accommodations in their daily lives.

Is Autism Level 3 Curable?

No. Autism is not curable. Autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong disability that affects how individuals interact with the world. Early intervention and support services can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals with Level 3 autism. While it is not curable, effective interventions can help teach the skills necessary to lead fulfilling lives.

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