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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an unfortunately common condition that impacts millions of people today. While strides are being made to better understand this disorder, there is still a lot that the general public needs to understand about autism, including what the three levels of autism are.

ASD Level 1: Requiring Support

There are three recognized levels of autism today and while every individual is unique, every person with autism falls into one of these levels. It is important to note that there are also vast variations in each of these levels, meaning two people in “level 1” may not behave in the exact same way. However, understanding the general qualifications for each of these levels will help you better understand autism.

And this all starts with ASD Level 1.

This is the mildest of the levels, representing the “highest functioning” form of autism. You may not even realize an individual in ASD Level 1 has autism. This level also includes individuals who would have previously been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Asperger’s is no longer used as a formal diagnosis today.

When a child has ASD Level 1 autism, hey may understand and speak in complete sentences, but have difficulty engaging in back-and-forth conversations. They may seem socially awkward or struggle to fit in with their peers in certain social situations.

Some children in Level 1 also have challenges when switching between tasks and may have issues with staying organized or planning. While these individuals require some support in order to function to the best of their ability, they are generally quite independent. Typically this support comes in the form of cognitive behavior therapy.

Here are some hallmarks of Level 1:

  • Inability to maintain eye contact
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Difficulty multitasking
  • Requiring special rituals, such as only drinking from one cup
  • Struggling with time management
  • Struggling to participate in class


ASD Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support

Children who fall into ASD Level 2 will have more challenges with social communication than those with Level 1 autism. Children in Level 2 are also much more likely to have repetitive behaviors. Most children who fall into ASD Level 2 have both verbal and nonverbal communication challenges.

These children may also struggle with responses to social cues or portray completely abnormal responses to these cues. While children in level 1 may be seen as inflexible—this is even more pronounced in Level 2. Straying from the familiar or from routines may cause outbursts from children or serious distress or lead to challenging behavior.

The challenges that children in Level 2 face will likely be more obvious to casual observers than they are for children in Level 1. Children who are diagnosed as ASD Level 2 will need substantial ongoing support to learn behavior modifications and coping mechanisms.

Typically children in this level will require daily support to help them address language, behavioral and social difficulties. However, they may still need help with daily activities.

Here are some of the things that you may notice about a child in Level 2:

  • Avoiding social situations
  • Hypersensitivity to stimuli like sights, sounds and smells
  • Stimming behaviors such as rocking, pacing or hand flapping
  • Self-harming behaviors such as banging their heads on the wall
  • Easily distracted by stimuli
  • Falling behind academically

ASD Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support


ASD level 3 means individuals require very substantial support. Children with Level 3 autism will be nonverbal or may only have the use of a few intelligible words. Most children in this category have hardly any social interaction or ability to respond to others.

Individuals at this level may have the ability to interact with others only to meet their immediate needs and may be unable to form actual relationships. An individual at Level 3 will not only be highly inflexible but they will likely have extreme difficulty coping to changes in their routine.

Most individuals with this level of autism have restrictive or repetitive behaviors that will interfere with their ability to function normally in society and they may struggle most with transitioning from one activity to another. In fact, this often causes significant distress.  

Children in Level 3 will often need constant care and supervision, likely through a caregiver. They will also typically need help with everyday tasks such as bathing, eating and going to the bathroom. There are speech language therapies and occupational therapies that can help children at this level.

Some of the hallmarks you may notice in children who fall into Level 3 include:

  • Fixation on atypical behaviors like rocking
  • Rarely engaging in social interactions
  • Inability to complete daily tasks
  • Diminished cognitive function

Most families will know where their loved one with autism falls within these three levels, but you should still always have a formal diagnosis from a doctor.

Autism truly is a spectrum and it can look very different from person-to-person. However, the more our society understands about how these variations look and what it means for each individual, the better we can all be at supporting members of the autism community together. 


If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.

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