Autism Diagnosis: 3 Levels Parents Should Know

Reviewed by:

February 22, 2022

ASD, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a form of neurodivergence with a range of conditions including challenges with repetitive behaviors, maladaptive behaviors, social skills, speech communication, and nonverbal communication. These conditions are often distinguished by differences in interaction and communication behaviors. Children with autism can demonstrate restricted interests or repetitive behaviors. They may also react abnormally to denial or when given directions.

A medical doctor or psychologist uses a variety of tools to assess the growth and behavioral habits of a child to understand whether the child shows symptoms of autism.

Understanding the purpose of autism diagnosis 

Since there are no lab tests that can diagnose ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), doctors concentrate on behaviors that parents, teachers, and other people observe and report. To help caregivers identify children on the spectrum, they must monitor and assess their growth in several key areas. 

These areas include social awareness and communication, language and interaction, repetitive behaviors, and restricted interests. The objective of an autism diagnostic evaluation is to learn whether a child exhibits symptoms of ASD, how many autism symptoms they have, and how those symptoms influence the individual’s ability to interact with their environment.

Once an autism diagnosis is received, the family can begin to work with a variety of specialized therapists to provide care for their child.

What are the three levels of autism in children?

The Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is the standard reference made by the American Psychiatric Association for healthcare providers to use to diagnose behavioral conditions such as autism.

There are 3 levels in the spectrum:

  • Level 1: 

Level 1 is on the lower end of the ASD spectrum. This is typically a high-functioning individual with limited symptoms but may experience deficits in social interactions and relationships.

  • Level 2

Level 2 is a mid-functioning individual where you may see communication, social, and play deficits as well as maladaptive behavioral excesses.

  • Level 3

Level 3 is on the high end where the child may be non or minimally verbal, have high rates of maladaptive behaviors, repetitive actions, or lack of social or play skills.

How are ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) symptoms evaluated?

The assessment of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) symptoms must cover at least two pivotal components: caregiver/parent interview and direct observation. The doctors will initially question parents or caregivers about the kid’s growth from birth to the time of examination and will concentrate on symptoms of autism specifically. 

This discussion may also analyze birth history, pregnancy and health history, school record, behavioral and emotional well-being, and any other elements that may impact the child’s development or behavior. 

The child must also get examined by a psychologist or neurologist who can determine if symptoms documented in the consultation are visible to others. In numerous cases, parent discussions and therapists’ direct examination are sufficient to assess the autism symptoms. It is also beneficial to interview the child’s educator or other adults who understand the child well. 

This process can be done in-person or through online consultation. The objective is to acquire sufficient data about the child to comprehend how they behave in different environments. The evaluator collects all of the details and applies their training and experience to determine the autism diagnosis.

What are the tests used during autism diagnosis?

The most prevalent test used for autism diagnosis is the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule), which is an assessment to assist therapists when making an accurate analysis of the child’s behavior. It specifies whether certain behavior patterns require further autism diagnosis procedures. 

This assessment typically takes around 30 to 60 minutes to complete. The ADOS is a series of play and social exercises performed with the child. In young children, parents may also attend the test, allowing for a better examination of the child’s communication with familiar adults. The ADOS exercises offer an opportunity to monitor the child’s social and interaction aptitudes and any recurring repetitive behaviors.

Furthermore, other diagnostic tests for autism include the Autism Spectrum Rating Scales, Social Communication Questionnaire, Social Responsiveness Scale, Gilliam Autism Rating Scale, and more. Parents should know that there are no requirements to conduct these tests in a specific sequence; additionally, a professional is required to make the autism diagnosis using these methods.

What other areas do therapists observe during autism diagnosis?

Evaluations can consist of intelligence, language, conduct, and adaptive behavior (day-to-day living skills and actions) examinations. 

Some tests require the child’s direct participation while others include parent questionnaire forms. Depending on the child, other assessment areas might also include memory, attention, motor functioning, and educational achievement, although these evaluations are not always required for an autism diagnosis. 

These examinations can help therapists better understand the child’s current levels of functioning and guide therapy and education decisions. 

Remember, a professional therapist is required to evaluate these tests for autism diagnosis purposes. They will objectively evaluate other possible diagnostic explanations or conditions that may occur along with or in place of autism and strive to define a child’s deficits and excesses for greater understanding.

Who can diagnose autism?

Professionals with proper knowledge of autism can diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder. These individuals include medical doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, or neurologists.  

How long does an autism diagnosis take?

Given the extensive diagnosis nature, a typical assessment typically lasts 3 hours for a young child (under 5) and up to 6 hours for an older kid. It includes parent reviews, direct examination, and various other tests. During the autism diagnosis, children get frequent breaks so they remain comfortable and able to cooperate better. The therapist generally spends 2-4 hours after the examination to score and analyze all tests to make a report. The most effective autism therapies include early and comprehensive behavioral support. The earlier a kid gets enrolled in therapy sessions, the better their outlook. 

At Songbird, we put children and families first by providing innovative in-home ABA therapy programs for better results. Songbird's best-in-class therapists design care plans based on your child's strengths, interests, and goals to help your child succeed and grow.