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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to differences or challenges in social interaction and communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors, and is often accompanied by sensory processing disorder (sometimes referred to as sensory integration disorder).

The autism spectrum has a very wide range, from those with very mild characteristics to those that are profoundly affected.

Currently, the DSM-5 notes three levels of autism. Keep in mind that individuals can shift between levels of functioning and display different strengths and weaknesses, but these levels can be helpful when determining what interventions are appropriate.

Level 1: Requiring Support

These students usually have challenges with executive functioning and daily social interactions. They often need help with transitions, planning and organization, and time management. 

Difficulty interpreting social cues and body language can hamper friendships. Sometimes they need help interpreting figurative language, jokes, and sarcasm. These individuals often fall between the cracks because their need for support is not always obvious.

Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support

Students at this level have more profound challenges with language and social communication. Conversation is often repetitive and more basic. Their interests tend to be more narrow, which can limit more meaningful interactions.

They can be more resistant to changes in routine, which can provoke anxiety and stressful responses. Often individuals at this level have significant talents in a particular area, such as music or memory, which can be a source of satisfaction and pride.

Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support

These individuals are usually identified by more significant language and communication challenges. They may seem more preoccupied with their preferred behaviors and interests, which they often choose to focus on over social interactions. 

Changes in routine can be extremely challenging. With proper support, these students can learn emotional flexibility and how to interact more meaningfully with others.

3 funcutional levels of autism

Here are key characteristics of ASD: 

  • Challenges with social skills and understanding others’ perspectives
  • Difficulty with language and conversation skills
  • Fixation on certain subjects or topics
  • Sensory sensitivity
  • Difficulty with changing routines, activities, or environment
  • Repetitive and restrictive behaviors
  • Concrete thinking, can miss “the big picture” 


empowerED’s specialists work with your student to identify which components need improvement and which ones are a strong suit. 

From there, we provide the tools and strategies needed to implement + a personalized plan to strengthen these skills. 

All students on the autism spectrum possess their own set of unique strengths, and we work with your child to harness their abilities and learn how to work to their potential.

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