Level 3 Autism: Symptoms, Challenges, and Therapies

Reviewed by:
Hannah Andreasen

June 4, 2022

Level 3 autism requires substantial support because children in this category often exhibit behaviors to an extreme and dangerous level. They may find it challenging to express themselves verbally and non-verbally, and it may be difficult for them to interact socially. These children may also find it difficult to handle change, whether a deviation from a routine or a new location. This can lead them to engage in repetitive or maladaptive behaviors, a common symptom of those diagnosed with level 3 autism. 

Because these children may also have a limited ability to speak, social interaction with others is difficult. When they do interact, it can be an awkward or uncomfortable experience. Such children often respond only when directly approached by others. 

Symptoms associated with levels 1 and 2 are also present in children with level 3 autism;  however, they tend to be more severe, as well as accompanied by additional complications.

Symptoms of autism in children

Children may fall under the umbrella of autism if they:

  • Exhibit impaired verbal and/or non-verbal communication skills
  • Have difficulty forming social relationships
  • Become agitated or irritated over seemingly small issues
  • Get upset easily
  • Show repetitive behaviors and avoid eye contact
  • Demonstrate atypical patterns of speech
  • Lack age specific social and communication skills
  • Resist changes in routine or location
  • Engage in maladaptive behaviors atypical for their age

What are the symptoms of level 3 autism?

Level 3 autism is also called severe autism, indicated by the amount of additional support the child needs to succeed in daily life.  At this level, the child may require assistance and supervision all day as they face significantly more challenges than those with levels 1 and 2 autism. 

Here is a more in-depth look at some of the common symptoms prevalent in a level 3 diagnosis: 

  • Speech and social symptoms

Children with level 3 autism often find it challenging to develop their communication and social skills. They are likely to be non-verbal and unable to use spoken language when interacting with other people, and may even be unaware there are people around them.  

  • Sensory dysfunction

Many children with level 3 autism have sensory dysfunction, meaning they are either sensitive or non-sensitive to light, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Bright, crowded, or noisy environments can be overwhelming for children in such cases.

  • Cognitive challenges

Many children with autism can display significant cognitive impairment. Nonetheless, with proper care they can learn to communicate using spelling boards, sign language, Picture Exchange Communication Systems or Speech Generating Devices to improve their quality of life. 

  • Repetitive behaviors

Most children with level 3 autism exhibit self-stimulatory and repetitive behaviors. These behaviors may include moaning, flapping, door slamming, or violent rocking, which are potentially extreme and difficult to manage. 

  • Physical symptoms

There may also be physical symptoms such as sleeplessness, epilepsy, and gastrointestinal issues. Sometimes, these concerns go undetected or undiagnosed because of a child’s inability to communicate effectively.  However, undiagnosed physical illness can cause pain and worsen behavioral challenges.

What are common challenges when assisting level 3 autism?

Extreme maladaptive behaviors may result from sensory overload, frustration, or physical pain. Some children may express themselves through these behaviors.

Here are some of the more prevalent challenges that take place involving children with level 3 autism:

  • Self-injury

While self-injury may occur among children with milder forms of autism, it is more common at this level. Some typical behaviors include head-banging, attempts to consume non-food items, biting their arms, or pulling their hair. 

  • Aggressive behavior

Children with level 3 autism may act out by biting, kicking, or hitting others. They may also bang doors, smear feces, or other actions that require an effective and quick response.

  • Wandering around

It is also common for children with level 3 autism to wander off with no intended destination. This is particularly perilous because these children do not know to communicate with first responders or any others who may discover them, potentially resulting in dangerous situations.

How can one get an autism diagnosis?

If it is suspected a child exhibits symptoms of autism, parents should speak to a primary care therapist or pediatrician. These specialists often refer the children to a developmental pediatrician, child neurologist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, as needed.

People can seek assistance for evaluation from a public early childhood assistance center.

Public Early Childhood Assistance Centers are great places for receiving help for evaluation purposes. These centers do not need a diagnosis or referral and are free for everyone. Assistance can also be obtained from the local public school district.

Medical professionals use developmental screening and comprehensive behavior evaluations to assist with diagnosing symptomatic children. Some children need minimal support services, and early intervention programs can help them overcome their challenges.

How can parents care for children with level 3 autism?

Numerous options exist to address symptoms of level 3 autism: 

  • Non-medical therapies

Children with level 3 autism generally respond well to applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy. Therapists may also recommend sensory integration therapy for addressing sensory challenges in children. Other therapy options include speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, play therapy, etc.

  • Physical therapy

Few children with level 3 autism can adequately describe the physical challenges that they face. Therefore, therapists recommend a regular medical evaluation to determine whether a physical stimulus is leading to problematic behaviors.

  • Communication skill development

Many children with level 3 autism are non-verbal and find it tough to interact even if they learn to use spoken language. They may repeat sounds without meaning attached to them. However, many can learn to communicate using spelling boards, sign language, Picture Exchange Communication Systems or Speech Generating Devices.

  • Establishing highly structured environments

Most children benefit from a consistent schedule. For level 3 children, the right environment can minimize challenges and provide them with a sense of security. Here are some important components of a structured environment: 

  • A daily routine
  • Low light
  • Quiet environments
  • An established food menu

Can autism recede with age?

Autism symptom recovery depends on various factors. Children with levels 1 and 2 autism may notice faster results from therapy than those with level 3 autism. Moreover, the odds of autism symptoms improving over time are higher when children are at the level 1 or 2 stages.

However, it is also possible for children with level 3 autism to improve over time. If they get an accurate diagnosis, impactful therapy plans, and early interventions, they have a better chance of overcoming any growth delays. In fact, early intervention is one of the major benefits to children regardless of the severity of autism symptoms.

In Conclusion

Level 3 autism causes debilitating symptoms in children. These complications may be non-verbal, preventing successful interaction with other people. Sensory symptoms and cognitive challenges may be overwhelming and the children may engage in repetitive behaviors, some of which can be extreme and uncontrollable, potentially leading to self-injury, aggressiveness, and other challenges. 

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.