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At AdventHealth for Children, we celebrate diversity — including neurodiversity — and the beautiful qualities that make each child special and unique. The term neurodiversity identifies the many ways children and adults experience and interact with their environment. By understanding neurodiversity and sharing our differences, we can brighten our world and enrich the lives of those around us.
Since April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day, we’re here to highlight neurodiversity in children, including what it means to have autism, signs your child may be on the spectrum and ways to help them gain independence so they can thrive.
What Is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder marked by challenges with social interaction and communication, elevated sensitivity to sensory stimuli and repetitive, ritualistic behaviors. Autism is classified as a spectrum disorder because it differs in severity and presents uniquely in each person.
Steps for Seeking an Autism Evaluation
If you suspect your child may have autism, you can seek evaluation beginning with your child’s pediatrician. Depending on your child’s needs, they can connect you with a pediatric counselor, behavioral specialist, psychiatrist, occupational therapist and/or a speech therapist. By teaming up with our experts, you’ll be more equipped with the tools you need to help your child gain independence. They will help you determine an appropriate treatment plan based on the level of autism diagnosed.
Diagnosing Autism: Levels 1, 2 and 3
An autism diagnosis typically requires a more extensive analysis to determine the ASD level.
Level 1: Requires Support
Level 1 ASD is considered the most high-functioning form of autism. Children with level 1 ASD may have a hard time communicating effectively and appropriately with others. For example, they may not say the right thing at the right time or be able to read social cues and body language.
It may be considered mild medically, but it’s common for children to struggle deeply with level 1 ASD as they are aware that they communicate differently. They may experience loneliness and frustration. If you have a child or loved one with level 1 ASD, be patient with them and provide plenty of emotional support.
Level 2: Requires Substantial Support
Individuals with ASD level 2 have more pronounced problems with verbal and social communication than those diagnosed with level 1. They also find it harder to change focus or move from one activity to the next.
Children with level 2 ASD tend to have very narrow interests and engage in repetitive behaviors that can make it difficult for them to function. For example, they may pace back and forth or say the same thing repeatedly. They are likely to become agitated when their routine is changed.
Level 3: Requires Extensive Support
Level 3 is the most severe form of autism. Children in this category have many of the same behaviors as those with levels 1 and 2 but to a more extreme degree.
Challenges expressing themselves both verbally and nonverbally can make it very hard for them to function, interact socially and deal with a change in focus or location. Children with level 3 autism need considerable support, understanding and specialized care to help them cope.
Signs and Symptoms of Autism
Keeping in mind the three levels used to diagnose autism, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a list of signs and symptoms that may indicate your child has autism. If you notice these symptoms in your child, it’s best to contact your doctor and bring them in for an evaluation as early as possible so you and your child can access resources that will help them thrive.
At home, you can try implementing these techniques to provide structure and teach your child life skills they can carry with them:
- Build independence skills when you go out, by encouraging them to pay at the cash register
- Create a sense of choice by offering two items, such as an apple or an orange
- Use a digital or a sand timer to show there is a beginning and an end to activities
- Use visuals for scheduling so they can see what their days will be like
- Volunteer together to foster empathy, responsibility and a sense of joy in helping others
There is no one right way of thinking, learning and behaving. By embracing differences, focusing on strengths and fostering inclusion, we can help children on the autism spectrum gain independence so they can navigate their world with confidence and thrive in it.
Our skilled, compassionate team can help your child flourish physically, emotionally and spiritually with a personalized care plan that honors who they are — inside and out.