Are you a BCBA or an RBT? Join The New Golden Steps ABA Fellowship Program
See Open Roles
We do not have a commercial relationship with any of these companies and have not otherwise been endorsed by, are not affiliated with, and do not intend to suggest a connection to, any of the companies listed on the page.

Are There Different Levels of Autism? Exploring the Autism Spectrum

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the diversity of the autism spectrum. This has led to questions about whether there are different levels of autism, and what these levels might be.

Understanding Autism Functioning Levels

Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that it encompasses a wide range of abilities and challenges. To better understand and support individuals with autism, professionals use a framework that categorizes individuals into different autism functioning levels. This framework helps to identify the level of support needed by individuals with autism and guide intervention strategies.

What are Autism Functioning Levels?

Autism functioning levels, also known as the severity levels of autism, provide a way to describe the level of support individuals with autism require in their daily lives. These levels are based on the individual's social communication skills, repetitive behaviors, and the level of support needed to navigate the challenges associated with autism.

The three primary autism functioning levels are:

  • Level 1: Requiring Support
  • Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support
  • Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support

It's important to note that functioning levels are not fixed categories, but rather a dynamic representation of an individual's abilities and needs. An individual's functioning level can change over time with appropriate intervention, support, and growth.

Free A Family Reading a Book Together Stock Photo

Importance of Recognizing Different Levels of Autism

Recognizing and understanding the different levels of autism is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it helps professionals, parents, and caregivers gain insight into the unique needs and strengths of individuals with autism. By understanding the functioning level, appropriate support and interventions can be implemented to promote growth and development.

Secondly, recognizing the different levels of autism allows for better communication and collaboration among professionals, educators, and therapists. It ensures that everyone involved in the individual's care is on the same page, working towards common goals, and providing consistent support.

Lastly, understanding the functioning levels of autism helps parents and caregivers in making informed decisions regarding interventions, therapies, and educational placements. It empowers them to advocate for their child's needs and seek appropriate support.

By recognizing and understanding the different levels of autism functioning, parents and caregivers can better navigate the challenges and provide the necessary support for their child's growth and development. It is important to remember that every individual with autism is unique, and their needs should be addressed on an individual basis, regardless of their functioning level.

Level 1: Requiring Support

When it comes to understanding autism functioning levels, Level 1 refers to individuals who require support in their daily lives. These individuals may exhibit noticeable challenges in social interactions, communication, and flexibility. However, with the right strategies and support, they can navigate through these difficulties and lead fulfilling lives.

Characteristics of Level 1 Autism

Level 1 autism is often characterized by:

  • Mild difficulties in social interactions, such as initiating and maintaining conversations, understanding social cues, and making and maintaining friendships.
  • Challenges with communication, including difficulties with nonverbal communication, understanding abstract language, and expressing emotions effectively.
  • Rigid adherence to routines and difficulty adapting to changes in their environment.
  • Narrow interests and specific preferences for certain topics, often showing intense focus on those topics.
  • Sensory sensitivities, which may manifest as sensitivity to loud noises, bright lights, or certain textures.

Strategies for Supporting Children with Level 1 Autism

Supporting children with Level 1 autism involves implementing strategies that address their specific needs and challenges. Here are some strategies that can be helpful:

  1. Provide clear and explicit instructions: Children with Level 1 autism may benefit from clear and direct instructions. Break tasks or instructions into smaller steps and use visual aids or written instructions to enhance understanding.
  2. Foster social skills development: Encourage social interactions by providing opportunities for your child to interact with peers in structured settings, such as social skills groups or organized activities. Teach and practice social skills, such as turn-taking, active listening, and nonverbal communication.
  3. Establish routines and predictability: Creating a structured and predictable environment can help children with Level 1 autism feel more secure. Establish consistent routines and provide visual schedules to help them anticipate and prepare for changes.
  4. Support communication: Use visual supports, such as visual schedules, social stories, and visual cues, to enhance communication and understanding. Encourage the use of alternative communication methods, such as picture exchange systems or augmentative and alternative communication devices, if needed.
  5. Address sensory sensitivities: Recognize and accommodate sensory sensitivities by creating a sensory-friendly environment. This may involve providing noise-canceling headphones, using dimmed lighting, or offering sensory breaks when needed.

Remember, every child with Level 1 autism is unique, and it's essential to tailor support strategies to their individual needs. Work closely with professionals, such as therapists, educators, and healthcare providers, to develop an individualized plan that promotes their growth, development, and overall well-being.

Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support

Children with Level 2 Autism require substantial support to navigate their daily lives and engage in social interactions. Understanding the characteristics and implementing appropriate strategies can greatly assist parents in supporting their children with Level 2 Autism.

Characteristics of Level 2 Autism

In Level 2 Autism, individuals experience marked difficulties in social communication and interaction. Some key characteristics include:

  • Limited verbal and nonverbal communication skills, with difficulty initiating and sustaining conversations.
  • Challenges in adapting to social situations and understanding social cues, leading to difficulties in making and maintaining friendships.
  • Repetitive behaviors and restricted interests that may interfere with daily activities and social engagement.
  • Sensory sensitivities, such as being overly sensitive or underreactive to sensory stimuli, which can impact their ability to navigate different environments.

Understanding these characteristics can help parents tailor their support to meet the specific needs of their child with Level 2 Autism.

Strategies for Supporting Children with Level 2 Autism

To provide effective support for children with Level 2 Autism, parents can consider the following strategies:

  1. Visual supports: Utilize visual aids, such as visual schedules, social stories, and visual cues, to enhance communication and support understanding of routines and expectations.
  2. Social skills training: Engage children in structured activities and programs that focus on developing social skills, such as turn-taking, perspective-taking, and understanding emotions.
  3. Individualized education plans: Collaborate with educators to develop individualized education plans (IEPs) that address the specific learning needs of the child. This may include specialized instruction, accommodations, and modifications within the school environment.
  4. Structured routines: Establish consistent and predictable routines to help children with Level 2 Autism feel secure and navigate daily activities more effectively.
  5. Sensory accommodations: Create a sensory-friendly environment by minimizing sensory distractions and providing sensory accommodations, such as noise-canceling headphones, weighted blankets, or fidget tools.
  6. Collaboration with professionals: Seek support from a multidisciplinary team, including speech therapists, occupational therapists, and behavioral therapists, who can provide specialized interventions and guidance.

By implementing these strategies, parents can provide the substantial support necessary for children with Level 2 Autism. It is essential to remember that each child is unique, and individualized approaches should be tailored to meet their specific needs and strengths.

With patience, understanding, and appropriate support, parents can empower their children with Level 2 Autism to thrive and reach their full potential.

Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support

Children with Level 3 Autism require very substantial support to navigate their daily lives. This level is characterized by severe impairments in communication skills, social interactions, and repetitive behaviors. Individuals at this level often have significant delays in cognitive and adaptive functioning, which can impact their ability to engage in independent living.

Characteristics of Level 3 Autism

Children with Level 3 Autism exhibit a range of characteristics that require intensive support and assistance. Some key features of Level 3 Autism include:

  • Limited verbal communication: Children at this level may have minimal verbal language skills or may be entirely nonverbal. They may struggle to understand and use spoken language to communicate their needs, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Severe social deficits: Individuals with Level 3 Autism often have significant challenges in social interactions. They may struggle to initiate or maintain conversations, understand social cues, and develop meaningful relationships with peers or family members.
  • Restricted and repetitive behaviors: Repetitive behaviors are common in Level 3 Autism and can manifest in various forms, such as repetitive body movements, fixations on specific objects, or strict adherence to routines. These behaviors may serve as a way for individuals to manage their anxiety or sensory sensitivities.
  • Significant cognitive and adaptive delays: Children at this level typically experience significant delays in cognitive and adaptive functioning. They may require assistance with activities of daily living, such as dressing, feeding, or personal hygiene.

Strategies for Supporting Children with Level 3 Autism

Supporting children with Level 3 Autism requires a comprehensive and individualized approach. Here are some strategies that can be helpful:

  1. Structured environment: Creating a structured and predictable environment can help individuals with Level 3 Autism feel more secure and reduce anxiety. Establishing daily routines and visual schedules can provide a sense of stability and help them understand what to expect.
  2. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) systems: For nonverbal or minimally verbal individuals, using AAC systems such as picture boards, sign language, or communication apps can facilitate communication and help express their needs, wants, and thoughts.
  3. Visual supports: Visual supports such as visual schedules, social stories, and visual cues can aid in comprehension and communication. Visual aids can help individuals understand expectations, navigate daily tasks, and promote independence.
  4. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy: ABA therapy is an evidence-based intervention that can be beneficial for individuals with Level 3 Autism. It focuses on teaching new skills, reducing challenging behaviors, and promoting social interactions through positive reinforcement and structured teaching methods.
  5. Collaboration with professionals: Working closely with a team of professionals, including therapists, educators, and healthcare providers, is essential for developing an individualized support plan. These professionals can provide guidance, recommend appropriate interventions, and offer strategies tailored to the specific needs of the child.

By implementing these strategies and seeking support from professionals, parents can create a supportive environment and facilitate the development and progress of their child with Level 3 Autism. Remember, every child is unique, and it's important to tailor interventions to meet their individual needs and strengths.

Navigating Autism Functioning Levels as a Parent

Understanding the different levels of autism functioning can be invaluable for parents raising children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It allows them to tailor their support and interventions to meet their child's unique needs. In this section, we will explore the importance of individualized support and seeking professional guidance and resources when navigating the various autism functioning levels.

Importance of Individualized Support

Individualized support is essential when it comes to effectively addressing the challenges and enhancing the strengths of children with autism. Each child with ASD is unique, and their abilities and needs may vary significantly even within the same functioning level. Providing personalized support ensures that interventions and strategies are tailored to suit the specific requirements of the child.

By focusing on individualized support, parents can identify their child's strengths, interests, and areas of difficulty. This knowledge helps in developing strategies that capitalize on their strengths while addressing their challenges. It is important to remember that what works for one child with autism may not work for another. Therefore, taking an individualized approach is key to maximizing the child's potential.

Seeking Professional Guidance and Resources

Navigating the autism functioning levels can be complex and overwhelming for parents. It is crucial to seek professional guidance and utilize available resources to support both the child and the family. Professionals, such as pediatricians, developmental psychologists, and educators specializing in autism, can provide valuable insights and recommendations based on their expertise and experience.

Here are some steps parents can take to seek professional guidance and access helpful resources:

  1. Consult a healthcare professional: Start by consulting with a healthcare professional who specializes in autism spectrum disorder. They can provide an accurate diagnosis, explain the functioning level of your child, and guide you in understanding their unique needs.
  2. Connect with support groups: Joining local or online support groups for parents of children with autism can provide a valuable network of individuals who understand the challenges and can offer support, advice, and resources.
  3. Access educational resources: Many reputable organizations and websites provide evidence-based information, strategies, and tools for parents of children with autism. These resources can help parents better understand their child's functioning level and provide guidance on various aspects of parenting and supporting a child with autism.
  4. Engage with professionals: Collaborate with professionals who specialize in autism, such as therapists, special educators, and behavior analysts. They can offer individualized intervention plans, behavior management strategies, and guidance on supporting your child's development.

Remember, as a parent, you are your child's advocate and best ally. By seeking professional guidance and utilizing available resources, you can navigate the autism functioning levels more effectively and provide the tailored support your child needs to thrive.


Is there a definitive way to diagnose autism?

No, there is no one definitive test for diagnosing autism. Instead, doctors and clinicians use a combination of behavioral observations, medical history, and standardized assessments to make a diagnosis.

Can someone be diagnosed with both autism and another developmental disorder?

Yes, it is possible for individuals to have more than one developmental disorder. For example, some people with autism may also have ADHD or an intellectual disability.

Are there different levels of severity within the autism spectrum?

While the term "high functioning" or "low functioning" has been used in the past to describe different levels of severity within the autism spectrum, experts now recognize that these terms are oversimplifications. Instead, individuals with autism are recognized as having a wide range of abilities and challenges that can vary widely from person to person.

Can symptoms change over time for someone with autism?

Yes, it is possible for symptoms to change over time for individuals with autism. This can be due to a variety of factors such as age, environment, and interventions received. It is important for individuals with autism to receive ongoing support and assessment throughout their lives.

Is there a cure for autism?

There is currently no cure for autism. However, early intervention and targeted therapies can help individuals with autism develop skills and strategies to better navigate social interactions and daily life tasks.


In conclusion, while there are no official levels of autism, the autism spectrum is a complex and diverse range of conditions that can manifest in different ways. By recognizing this diversity, we can better understand and support individuals with autism and their families. We can also work towards reducing stigma and promoting acceptance of neurodiversity.


Continue Reading