What Is Severe Autism?
Autism is a shortened phrase used to refer to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a developmental disorder that affects how individuals communicate and behave. ASD can be diagnosed at any age, but it is referred to as a developmental disorder since symptoms usually show up during the first 2 years of an individual’s life.
Autism is specified as a “spectrum” because there is such a wide range of possible symptoms. There are also varying degrees of severity for those symptoms, so those with ASD can have very different experiences.
While autism is a spectrum, there is something referred to as “severe autism.” In this article, we’ll explain what severe autism is, the symptoms that often are shown, and how common it is.
What Is Severe Autism?
Within the autism spectrum, there are different levels—sometimes referred to as the autism severity scale—used to indicate an individual’s degree of functioning and needs. “Severe autism” is a term that is not currently recognized as an actual medical diagnosis, but is generally used in association with Level 3 autism.
Other names that have been used to refer to severe autism include:
ASD Level 3 is the highest level of autism diagnosed using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM defines the severity of autism based on the amount of support they need, with ASD Level 1 requiring support, ASD Level 2 requiring substantial support, and ASD Level 3 requiring very substantial support.
Like the other levels of ASD, there are certain symptoms that occur in individuals that indicate severe autism, or Level 3. Symptoms of severe autism include:
Individuals with severe autism also commonly require 24/7 support and supervision due to the increased challenges and disabilities they have. These are some of the main symptoms associated with severe autism, but each individual is different and cannot be diagnosed by anyone other than a specialist—like a developmental pediatrician or another qualified medical professional—through developmental screenings and evaluations.
How Common Is Severe Autism?
Unfortunately, the levels of severity listed in the DSM are not often used by doctors when diagnosing individuals with autism due to the all-encompassing use of “autism spectrum disorder.” This makes it difficult to determine how common severe autism is because it is diagnosed differently by different doctors.
This can lead to individuals with greater needs and lesser functioning abilities not getting the level of help they truly need due to a lack of resources, as well as underrepresentation in research, and many other problems. That’s why certain organizations like the National Council on Severe Autism are calling for the recognition of severe autism in the DSM.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 54 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, or about 1.8% of children. Certain studies estimate that 30% of children with autism spectrum disorder are minimally verbal to non-verbal, which is used as an indicator of severe autism. Based on those estimations, it can be approximated that around one-third of all individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder could have severe autism.
Recognition of severe autism in the DSM would dramatically help these individuals by creating a better understanding of their symptoms, increasing their access to vital resources, and furthering the research into severe autism.
New Transitions Center is a community-based organization focused on enhancing the lives of young adults with special needs and the loved ones who support them in the Roanoke, Texas area. The Center supports young adults with varying degrees of intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities, including those who may need assistance with ambulation and personal hygiene.
If you are interested in making a difference in the lives of children with special needs, consider applying to join our team as a Care Coach. You can learn more about our Care Coach positions by visiting this link or applying directly online.
You can also find out how you can help us fulfill our mission and maintain a low enrollee-to-caretaker ratio by donating to our cause, exploring our events and campaigns, or contacting us to join as a community partner today!