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Level 2 Autism: Understanding, Supporting, and Empowering

In the realm of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Level 2 Autism represents individuals who face significant challenges in their daily lives. People diagnosed with level 2 autism typically experience more pronounced difficulties in social communication, which can manifest as challenges in understanding social cues, maintaining conversations, or forming relationships. They may also exhibit repetitive behaviors and rigid adherence to routines or rituals, impacting their ability to adapt to new situations or changes in their environment. These individuals often require substantial support to navigate these challenges effectively and fully participate in daily life, such as school, work, and social interactions.

Individuals with level 2 autism may also demonstrate limited flexibility in their thinking and behavior, leading to difficulties in problem-solving or coping with unexpected events. These characteristics can contribute to increased reliance on structured environments and routines to feel secure and manage anxiety. While every person with level 2 autism is unique and may exhibit a wide range of strengths and challenges, early intervention and tailored support programs are crucial in helping them develop essential skills and achieve greater independence. Understanding and accommodating the specific needs of individuals with level 2 autism can foster a more inclusive and supportive environment where they can thrive and contribute meaningfully to their communities.  Additionally, any child who is diagnosed with ASD at any level who receives early interventions (EI) has better outcomes, according to a meta-analysis published by NIH.

Autism, defined by  persistent deficits in social communication and interaction across contexts, is classified into three levels in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5):

This blog zooms in on Level 2 Autism, exploring its characteristics, challenges, strengths, and interventions.

What is Level 2 Autism?

Level  Autism, as per the DSM-5, denotes individuals needing support due to social communication difficulties without significant impairments in daily functioning. They may struggle with social cues, eye contact, and reciprocal conversations, alongside exhibiting repetitive behaviors and intense interests.

Characteristics of Level 2 Autism:

Understanding these key characteristics helps provide appropriate interventions and support tailored to the individual’s needs, promoting their development and enhancing their quality of life.

  • Social Interaction Challenges: People with level 2 autism often struggle with understanding and using nonverbal communication cues such as gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice. They may need help initiating or maintaining conversations and understanding social norms.  Establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships with peers can be challenging. They may struggle to understand social cues, share interests, and engage in reciprocal interactions. 
  • Communication Differences: While individuals at this level may have developed some language skills, they often have difficulty with pragmatic language (using language in social contexts), understanding metaphors or sarcasm, and engaging in back-and-forth conversation.
  • Restrictive and Repetitive Behaviors: Individuals at this level can display rigid and inflexible repetitive behaviors or specific interests. These can include repetitive movements (e.g., hand-flapping, rocking), adherence to routines or rituals, and intense focus on particular topics.
  • Sensory Sensitivities: Many individuals with level 2 autism experience sensory sensitivities, such as heightened sensitivity or aversion to certain sounds, textures, lights, or smells. These sensitivities can significantly impact their daily activities and environments.
  • Need for Structured Support: Due to the severity of their challenges, individuals with level 2 autism typically require structured support across various settings, including educational, social, and possibly vocational environments. 

Level 2 Autism: Challenges and Strengths

Individuals with level 2 autism, categorized as requiring substantial support according to the DSM-5, exhibit a range of strengths and challenges that shape their unique experiences and abilities:

Strengths:

  1. Attention to Detail: Many individuals with level 2 autism have strong attention to detail and may excel in tasks that require a methodical and focused approach. This can benefit fields like data analysis, quality control, or technical troubleshooting.
  1. Specialized Interests: Often, individuals with level 2 autism develop intense interests in specific topics or activities. This focused interest can lead to deep knowledge and expertise in niche areas, potentially paving the way for specialized careers or hobbies.
  1. Structured Thinking: Many individuals at this level exhibit structured thinking patterns, which can contribute to logical reasoning and problem-solving abilities. They may excel in tasks that require adherence to procedures or systematic approaches.
  1. Memory Skills: Some individuals with level 2 autism have exceptional memory skills, particularly recalling factual information or details about their areas of interest.
  1. Creativity: While creativity manifests differently for each individual, some people with level 2 autism demonstrate creativity in art, music, writing, or innovative problem-solving approaches.

Challenges:

  1. Social Communication: Difficulties understanding and using nonverbal cues, maintaining conversations, and interpreting social nuances can hinder social interactions and relationships.
  1. Flexibility and Adaptability: Rigidity in routines and difficulty with changes or unexpected events can lead to stress and challenges in adapting to new situations.
  1. Sensory Sensitivities: Heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as sounds, textures, or lights, can be overwhelming and affect comfort and concentration.
  1. Executive Functioning: Challenges in planning, organizing tasks, and managing time can impact academic, work, and daily life responsibilities.
  1. Emotional Regulation: Difficulty understanding and expressing emotions and managing frustration or anxiety can affect social interactions and behavior, leading to other co-occurring diagnoses.

Support and Interventions 

The key to addressing all levels of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) lies in early diagnosis and intervention. Meta-research consistently shows that early interventions contribute to better outcomes across the spectrum. While ASD cannot be cured, the level of support and scaffolding needed in school-aged children to adulthood can significantly benefit from early interventions, especially with different types of ASD-1 and ASD-2 diagnoses.   There is no cure for ASD. 

Effective interventions should include peer group support and community engagement. Sean Haggerty, MSW, with over 15 years of experience working with ASD-1 and ASD-2 in different levels of care and settings, and Jake Weld, M.Ed., who has dedicated over 20 years to supporting young individuals with autism and their families, emphasize the importance of community for children with ASD-1 or ASD-2. Sean Haggerty, M.S.W highlights that ASD students, like all children and young adults, crave a community where they can pursue their interests and passions in a safe environment. He notes that ASD-2 individuals may require ongoing support or scaffolding into young adulthood.

Weld further explains, “In inclusive education settings where neurotypical students are mixed with those with ASD, children with ASD may face greater challenges with intentional behaviors and communication, and the speed of communication potentially adds high levels of anxiety and further social isolation..” He emphasizes that ASD-2 students also might need more support earlier in their education from teachers or families, which assists a young person in getting services in school.

There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder level 2 regardless of the child’s age; there are lots of supports:

Any child from pre-school – high school with an ASD diagnosis is required by United States law to have an Individual Education Plan (IEP, which is available for ages 3 – 22*). Each state will implement this law differently. These are just some of what an IEP can include for a child with an IEP:   

  • Personalized goals and objectives.
  • Specific accommodations and modifications.
  • OT, PT, Speech and language.
  • Visual Supports
  • Sensory Breaks
  • Assistive Technology
  • Structured/Predicible Learning/Living Environment
  • Differentiated or Modified Instruction
  • Applied Behavioral Therapy (ASD-2 or ASD-3)

Contact your school district for questions about assessment and how to implement an IEP. 

* This is a complex topic.  It it not uncommon to have an Education Advocate, Education Attorney because of the law and how it is intrepreiated in your state.

ASD Interventions/SupportPost High School

Individualized transition planning or vocational planning is part of ending the IEP plan for all children who have an IEP in the United States.  As a child nears the complication of school,  might not be able to live independently, and what the plan looks like and how it is paid for is all part of the transition process.  Refer to the Social Security Administration for planning information.  For ASD-1 and some ASD-2 young people, there are more and more workplace accommodations available.  Additionally, big tech companies or larger companies are actively searching, hiring, and recruiting ASD young people

Conclusion

Dr Stephen Shore, an autism advocate he has autism, said, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” 

Understanding Level 2 Autism is crucial in fostering a supportive environment for individuals facing significant daily challenges. Those with Level 2 Autism often experience pronounced difficulties in social communication, struggle with maintaining conversations, and may have rigid adherence to routines. These challenges can impact their ability to adapt to new situations and lead to heightened anxiety and reliance on structured environments.

However, recognizing these challenges also allows us to appreciate the unique strengths of individuals with Level 2 Autism. Their attention to detail, specialized interests, structured thinking, and memory skills can be leveraged to help them thrive in various areas. Early intervention and tailored support programs are key to helping them develop essential skills and achieve greater independence.

Interventions should include academic and vocational support, behavioral and social strategies, communication aids, and emotional and mental health support. Additionally, life skills training and assistive technology can significantly enhance their quality of life. Family and caregiver support, collaboration, and advocacy are also critical components of effective intervention.

In inclusive education settings, children with ASD may face more significant challenges with managing behaviors and communication, necessitating early or additional support from teachers and families. This support can lead to better outcomes and help them fully participate in school, work, and social interactions.

There is no cure for autism, but with the proper support and understanding, individuals with Level 2 Autism can lead fulfilling lives. Each person with autism is unique, and interventions should be tailored to their specific needs to foster an inclusive and supportive environment where they can thrive and contribute meaningfully to their communities.

For more information about neurodiverse brains and autism spectrum disorder, visit the allkindsoftherapy.com blog.

NOTE TO THE READER:
If you aim to find an intervention or support for your teen outside of school, visit the residential treatment or Transitional Living filters.  

If you are 18 and over, a young adult searching for different options for your neurodivergent brain or community, visit the residential treatment or Transitional Living filters. 

Use the Search field for ASD, Autism, or neurodivergent to find the type of programming you need.  The search results will vary based on how the profile page is written.

Explore treatment programs by age:

✅ Pre-Teen Treatment or  Transitional Living
✅ Teen Treatment  or  Transitional Living 
✅ Young Adult (18 – 30+) Treatment  or  Transitional Living

Further blogs that you can review:

Can Your School System Help With Treatment Options? 8 Questions To Ask
Insurance Billing: the 101 Course
Understanding The 3 Levels of Autism