Level 1 Autism: Symptoms

Reviewed by:
Hannah Andreasen

June 4, 2022

Levels of autism

Variations in the DSM diagnosis of autism (now recognized more precisely as autism spectrum disorder) have influenced changes in autism leveling. The degrees of autism provide additional clarity on a person's autism diagnosis in terms of where they fall on the spectrum. In general, the symptoms of autism range from mild to severe, and each person is classified as having level 1, level 2, or level 3 autism depending on their condition and how much support they require in their everyday lives.

These three levels assist therapists in prescribing optimum therapy to meet a child's specific needs and can help people with autism maximize their talents while improving their social, verbal, and behavioral skills.

According to the current levels within the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, each level defines the amount of assistance required for an individual child:

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

Having this knowledge can help parents prepare for the different types of obstacles their child may experience throughout everyday life.

Level 1 autism spectrum disorder

The least severe form of autism is level 1, generally considered “mild autism.” Children with level 1 autism may struggle in social situations and raise concerns about restricting or repetitive behaviors, yet require limited assistance to perform their daily activities.

Children with level 1 autism may find it difficult to engage in conversations. They also may form social bonds, but establishing and retaining friends may not come easily to them.

Those diagnosed at this level may prefer established routines and find changes or unexpected events unsettling. On the other hand, they might prefer to do things in their own way.

Level 1 autism: traits and behaviors

Without specific intervention, people with level 1 autism may experience difficulties participating in social communication and may experience the following:

  • Inflexibility with ideas and actions
  • Difficulty switching between activities
  • Executive functioning limitations
  • Difficulty building and maintaining social relationships
  • Hypersensitivity to light, sound, or other stimuli
  • Nonverbal conversation challenges during conversations, such as appropriate distance, volume, or tone
  • Uncoordinated or clumsy movements

Symptoms of autism vary from child to child. However, several patterns appear in children who fall within a level 1 autism diagnosis. Some of these attributes can be perceived as assets, such as possessing exceptional focus and perseverance, while others are usually obstacles to overcome.

Typical symptoms of level 1 autism

Those defined as having mild autism may exhibit:

  • Failure to make eye contact or read social cues properly

While everyone is different, many children have difficulty reading social cues and keeping eye contact during conversations.

  • Challenges in establishing or maintaining conversations

Initiating conversation might be difficult for children who struggle to understand social signs, especially when it comes to understanding the other person's point of view. They may see things in black and white, right and wrong, good and bad, which causes issues when viewpoints possess conflicting, paradoxical, or ambiguous components, as many do.

  • Enhanced dependence on routines

Many children enjoy routines to feel secure and comfortable in expectation, but individuals with level 1 autism may find themselves facing issues at home or school whenever there are variations within the schedule. 

  • Apprehensive behavior

Children with autism sometimes struggle to socialize, which can cause severe anxiety and even panic attacks. This can lead to apprehension in social situations, even when no one has attempted to engage them in conversation. 

  • Difficulty processing images and reactions

Children with mild autism can have trouble predicting someone's reaction to what they say or do and can struggle with imaginative situations as it can be difficult to develop an image to correspond with ideas, especially those that are abstract in nature. 

  • Trouble shifting focus

Cognitively and emotionally, children with autism frequently struggle to move their focus away from specific ideas. For example, they may compulsively obsess over a specific song or certain memory.

In conclusion

Autism affects each child differently. On the spectrum, the severity of disability and the combination of symptoms can vary substantially, making it important for every child and adolescent with autism to receive a proper diagnosis and care plan. 

Songbird Therapy is a technology-enabled provider setting a higher standard for children’s autism care. With a deeply passionate team and innovative technology, we’re building a world where every child can access world-class care at home, uniquely tailored to them.