3 Levels of Autism: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Life Expectancy

To better understand ASD, it is often divided into three different levels based on the level of support a person may need to navigate everyday life. Understanding these levels can help parents, caregivers, and educators better understand individuals with ASD and provide them with the support they need to thrive.

What are the 3 Levels of Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurological condition that affects people in different ways. To better understand ASD, it is often divided into three different levels based on the level of support a person may need to navigate everyday life. Understanding these levels can help parents, caregivers, and educators better understand individuals with ASD and provide them with the support they need to thrive.

Level 1: Requiring Support

The first level of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by individuals who require some support to navigate social situations and communicate effectively.

People with Level 1 ASD may face challenges in their daily lives that can be difficult to overcome. They may have difficulty with social interactions and may struggle with initiating conversations or maintaining eye contact. As a result, they might feel disconnected from the world around them.

Individuals with Level 1 ASD may have difficulty with social communication, which can lead to misinterpretation of social cues. For example:

  • They may not understand facial expressions, such as a smile indicating happiness or sarcasm.
  • They may miss nonverbal cues like body language, tone of voice, and eye contact.
  • They may struggle with turn-taking in conversations and interrupt others unintentionally.
  • They may not pick up on social norms or rules, such as personal space or appropriate topics for discussion.

It's important to remember that individuals with ASD are not intentionally being difficult or rude – they simply process information differently.

Additionally, individuals at this level may have difficulty with transitions and may become easily overwhelmed in new or unfamiliar situations. This can make everyday activities, such as going to school or work, challenging for them.

It's important to provide support and understanding to individuals with ASD to help them cope with these challenges and live fulfilling lives.

Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support

The second level of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by individuals who require substantial support to function in everyday life. People with Level 2 ASD face more significant challenges with social interactions and communication than those with Level 1. For example:

  • They may struggle to initiate or maintain conversations with others.
  • They may have difficulty understanding nonverbal cues such as facial expressions or tone of voice.
  • They may not understand social norms or rules, such as taking turns in conversation or personal space.

Moreover, individuals with Level 2 ASD may exhibit repetitive behaviors and have highly specific interests that may not align with their peers' interests. For instance:

  • They may have intense interests in specific topics, such as trains or dinosaurs, and have difficulty engaging in other activities.
  • They may engage in repetitive behaviors, such as hand-flapping or rocking, to self-stimulate or manage stress.

Due to these challenges, individuals at this level may require assistance with activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing, and preparing meals. They may also need additional support in developing independent living skills and managing their emotions. Despite these challenges, people with Level 2 ASD can lead fulfilling lives with the appropriate support and resources.

Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support

The third level of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by significant impairments in communication and social interaction, and requires very substantial support in order to function in everyday life. For example:

  • People with Level 3 ASD may have limited verbal skills and may communicate using gestures or other nonverbal means.
  • They may struggle with understanding social cues, making and maintaining friendships, and other social interactions.
  • They may exhibit repetitive behaviors, such as hand-flapping or rocking, or engage in self-injurious behaviors.

Additionally, people at this level may also have significant sensory sensitivities. They may find it difficult to process sensory information, such as loud noises or bright lights, which can make it challenging to navigate the world around them. For instance:

  • They may cover their ears or become agitated in response to loud sounds.
  • They may avoid certain textures or materials due to sensory sensitivities.

This is why individuals with Level 3 ASD may require a highly structured environment with few sensory distractions. Although living with Level 3 ASD can be challenging, it's important to remember that individuals with ASD have unique strengths and abilities. With the right support and understanding, they can lead fulfilling and happy lives.

Early Signs of ASD in Infants and Toddlers

It is important to recognize the early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in infants and toddlers so that intervention can begin as early as possible. While every child develops at their own pace, there are some common red flags that may indicate the presence of ASD.

Some early signs of ASD in infants and toddlers include:

  • Limited eye contact or lack of interest in making eye contact
  • Delayed or absent babbling, pointing, or other gestures used for communication
  • Lack of response to their name being called
  • Repetitive behaviors such as rocking, hand-flapping, or spinning objects
  • Difficulty with transitions and changes in routine
  • Sensory sensitivities such as aversion to certain textures or sounds

If you notice any of these signs in your infant or toddler, it is important to speak with your pediatrician. Early intervention can make a significant difference in improving outcomes for children with ASD.

The Importance of Early Intervention for Individuals with ASD

Early intervention is crucial for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Research shows that early identification and intervention can lead to better outcomes in terms of communication, social skills, and cognitive development.

Intervention can begin as early as 18 months of age, and it typically involves a team approach that includes healthcare professionals, educators, therapists, and family members. The goal of early intervention is to provide support and resources to help the individual with ASD reach their full potential.

Early intervention may include:

Speech therapy

To improve communication skills such as speaking, listening, and understanding language, one must be willing to put in the effort and practice. It's not just about mastering grammar and vocabulary, but also about understanding cultural nuances and social contexts. The key is to be patient, persistent, and open-minded in your approach.

One way to improve speaking skills is to practice with a language partner or tutor. This allows you to receive feedback on your pronunciation, intonation, and grammar, and also gives you the opportunity to practice in a supportive environment. Listening skills can be improved by actively engaging in conversations and paying attention to nonverbal cues, such as body language and tone of voice. Understanding language, on the other hand, requires a deep understanding of the language's structure and syntax.

Occupational therapy

To help individuals develop fine motor skills needed for everyday tasks such as eating or dressing, it is important to engage in activities that promote dexterity and hand-eye coordination. These activities can include playing with small objects, using scissors to cut paper, and practicing handwriting. Additionally, exercises that strengthen the hand and wrist muscles can also be beneficial.

By regularly engaging in these types of activities, individuals can improve their fine motor skills and increase their independence in daily living tasks. It's important to note that fine motor skills development is a gradual process, so patience and persistence are key.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a type of therapy that focuses on teaching new behaviors while reducing unwanted behaviors. ABA is a data-driven therapy, meaning that progress is measured by the collection and analysis of data. This helps to ensure that the therapy is effective and that the individual receiving the therapy is making progress.

ABA is often used to help individuals with autism spectrum disorder, but it can also be used to help individuals with a variety of other conditions, such as ADHD, anxiety, and depression. ABA is a highly individualized therapy, meaning that the therapy is tailored to the specific needs of each individual. This makes it a very effective therapy for a wide range of individuals.

Social Skills Training

To teach individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) how to interact with others appropriately is a challenging yet rewarding task. It requires a deep understanding of the unique needs and learning styles of individuals with ASD. It also involves a great deal of patience and empathy, as individuals with ASD often struggle with social communication and may require additional support to develop these skills.

One approach to teaching social skills to individuals with ASD is through structured and individualized interventions. These interventions can include social stories, role-playing, and modeling appropriate social behaviors. It is important to tailor the interventions to the individual's specific needs and interests, as well as their developmental level.

Another important aspect of teaching social skills to individuals with ASD is creating a supportive and inclusive environment. This can involve educating peers and family members about ASD and how to interact with individuals with ASD in a positive and respectful manner. It can also involve providing accommodations and modifications to help individuals with ASD participate in social activities and interactions.

Strategies for Improving Communication Skills in Individuals with ASD

Effective communication is crucial for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to thrive in their daily lives. Here are some strategies that can help improve communication skills in individuals with ASD:

Visual Supports

Visual supports, such as pictures, symbols, and written words, can be incredibly helpful for individuals with ASD who struggle with verbal communication. These supports can help them understand and express their thoughts and feelings more effectively.

Visual supports can include:

  • Picture schedules to help individuals understand the sequence of events throughout the day
  • Social stories to help individuals understand social situations and appropriate behaviors
  • Visual aids to help individuals communicate basic needs or wants

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) refers to any method of communication that supplements or replaces verbal speech. This can include sign language, picture exchange systems, or electronic devices that generate speech.

AAC can be especially beneficial for individuals with Level 2 or Level 3 ASD who have significant impairments in verbal communication. AAC can provide them with an alternative means of expressing themselves and engaging in social interactions.

Social Skills Training

Social skills training can also be an effective way of improving communication skills in individuals with ASD. This type of training focuses on teaching social skills such as turn-taking, initiating conversations, and understanding nonverbal cues.

Social skills training may involve:

  • Role-playing scenarios to practice social interactions
  • Modeling appropriate social behaviors
  • Teaching specific social rules or norms

Sensory Integration Therapy

For some individuals with ASD, sensory sensitivities can interfere with their ability to communicate effectively. Sensory integration therapy involves helping individuals manage these sensitivities so they can better engage in social interactions.

Sensory integration therapy may involve activities such as:

  • Brushing the skin to desensitize it
  • Engaging in physical activities to regulate the sensory system
  • Providing a calming environment to reduce stress and anxiety

Parent and Caregiver Involvement

Finally, it's important for parents and caregivers to be actively involved in improving communication skills in individuals with ASD. They can provide ongoing support, encouragement, and practice opportunities outside of therapy sessions.

Some ways parents and caregivers can support communication development include:

  • Creating a supportive home environment that encourages communication
  • Practicing communication skills during everyday activities such as mealtime or playtime
  • Providing positive feedback and reinforcement for communication attempts


Q: What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

A: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. It is a spectrum disorder, which means that it affects individuals in different ways and to varying degrees.

Q: How common is ASD?

A: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 54 children in the United States have been diagnosed with ASD.

Q: What are some common signs of ASD?

A: Some common signs of ASD include delayed speech and language development, difficulty with social interaction, repetitive behaviors or routines, and sensory sensitivities.

Q: Can ASD be cured?

A: There is currently no cure for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, early intervention and ongoing support can help individuals with ASD lead fulfilling lives.

Q: What types of therapies are used to treat ASD?

A: There are a variety of therapies that may be used to treat Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including speech therapy, occupational therapy, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), and social skills training.

Q: How can I support someone with ASD?

A: Supporting someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) involves understanding their unique strengths and challenges and providing them with the appropriate resources and support. This may include creating a supportive environment at home or school, engaging in activities that promote social interaction and communication skills, and connecting them with community resources.


Understanding the different levels of ASD can help individuals and their families receive the appropriate support and services they need to thrive. While every person with ASD is unique and may require different types of support, understanding the different levels can help guide treatment and support strategies. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have ASD, it is important to talk to a healthcare professional for an evaluation and diagnosis.