Levels of Autism

The world of autism has changed so much since this became our family’s life 10 years ago. There have been more diagnosed, and the categories for autism have changed.

When Sawyer was diagnosed with autism in 2014, he was considered to be low- to medium-functioning. He couldn’t speak or communicate with us outside of grunting, and he needed a substantial amount of support and help for every day life. However, autism is a spectrum and while a child may struggle in, say, fine motor skills, he may excel in other areas. The way doctors and specialists talk about those on the spectrum now refer to Levels 1, 2, or 3. As Sawyer has grown up, he has come remarkably far and would now be considered “Level 1 Autism”; he communicates extremely well and excels in school, but he lacks in social cues and stims quite a bit in certain situations. People who don’t know him well may not even realize he’s autistic, but the signs are definitely there.

The first time I heard someone ask me what level Sawyer was, I said “Huh? What do you mean?” My cousin was diagnosed with autism later in life, and he had recently been diagnosed as Level 1 Autistic. I had no idea what level Sawyer was, because the specialists at Vanderbilt who diagnosed him didn’t diagnose that way. After looking it up, I understood the levels a lot better than “high functioning” or “low functioning”; I also think it’s a better way to classify autism, since kids that may be “low functioning” in one area may be “high functioning” in another. I found this awesome graphic first posted on a site called ChuBuddy (which makes amazing chews for those with special needs). It makes it easy to understand autism levels and what that means for those diagnosed this way:

Autism Spectrum Disorder Levels: Credit to ChuBuddy.com

I am constantly studying the disorder to try to help me better understand and help Sawyer, but I had never heard of the levels until my cousin was diagnosed in 2019. It just goes to show how fast things have moved in the autism community since Sawyer’s diagnosis, and that is both exciting and a little nerve-wracking.

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