You may have heard of Asperger’s Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, or Autism Disorder—with qualifiers like mild, severe, high-functioning or low functioning. Most of us don’t realize that these terms are no longer used and have been replaced by the collective terminology autism spectrum disorder or simply ASD.
In this blog, we’ll tell you what necessitated this shift in perspective. What’s more, you’ll learn how to gauge if your kid falls within the spectrum and, more importantly, how ABA can help you help your child.
The Big Shift
Before 2013, several conditions such as autistic disorder, pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), Asperger’s syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder were diagnosed separately.
The different diagnoses are further classified as severe, mild, high-functioning, or low functioning. However, such terms are no longer used as they tend to overgeneralise a child’s situation. These erstwhile different conditions are now known collectively as autism spectrum disorder.
So who makes these definitions? What is the globally recognised source of these categorisations? That would be the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the “handbook used by professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. DSM contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders,” according to Psychiatry.org.
The 5th Edition (DSM-V) was published in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association. Prior to that, the 4th Edition (DSM-IV) used various terminologies for autism spectrum disorder (see below).
A result of extensive research and evaluation, the term “autism spectrum disorder” was coined and subsequently published in the current edition, DSM-V. It came about after experts concluded that a diagnosis within the spectrum tends to shift over time.
The different diagnoses in DSM-IV had similar and sometimes overlapping behavioural characteristics in varying severity. Moreover, a diagnosis was partially dependent on who made it. Because of this ambiguity and subjectivity, the experts decided to focus on autism as a spectrum.
What are the different types of autism today?
Today, a child with ASD is diagnosed as level 1, level 2, or level 3—depending on the severity of the condition and how much support they need in their daily lives. Symptoms are categorised by a child’s difficulties in social communication, social skills, and restrictive or repetitive behaviours.
Let’s take a closer look at the characteristics of each level below.
ASD Level 1 – Requiring Support
Level 1 only displays mild autism, making it the lowest classification. Children under this category also struggle in social situations and exhibit restrictive or repetitive behaviours. But they only require minimal support to function with their daily activities.
In Level 1 ASD, the child can communicate verbally, but they may struggle to maintain a conversation. In addition, they lack interest in social interactions; hence making and keeping friends may not come easily or naturally to them.
These children also tend to be inflexible. They prefer to stick to established routines as they may find it challenging to switch between different activities. In addition, changes and unexpected events make them feel uncomfortable. They want to do things their way, but their poor organisational skills hamper their independence.
ASD Level 2 – Requiring Substantial Support
Considered as the middle-range of autism, children who qualify need more support than those who fall under level 1 ASD. They have more difficulty with their social skills, and it’s noticeable to people around them than those with mild ASD.
These children may or may not communicate verbally, but conversations tend to be very short or only focus on specific topics when they do. Therefore, they need extensive support to participate in social activities.
It’s also typical for these kids to not look at the person while conversing with them. They may not make much eye contact and fall behind with their non-verbal skills, characterised by their monotone voice and a flat affect.
ASD Level 3 – Requiring Very Substantial Support
Level 3 is the most severe form in the autism spectrum. However, just like previous classifications, they also have restrictive and repetitive behaviours that tend to get in the way of functioning independently with daily activities. Examples include rocking, flapping, and spinning either themselves or other things.
Shifting their focus from one activity to another may come at great difficulty and even cause significant distress. The child may also experience extreme difficulty coping with changes to their routine.
Kids under this category have severe challenges in social communication and extremely inflexible behaviour. They are either nonverbal or only use a few words of intelligible speech. Initiation of social interaction and response to others is very limited.
How is ASD diagnosed?
- Speech and communication impairment
- Social interaction difficulties
- Repetitive, stereotyped behaviours (unusual impulsive and ritualistic mannerisms)
How can Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) help children with ASD?
ABA therapy uses constructive behavioural strategies to foster growth and improvement in children with developmental disabilities like ASD. It is based on various behavioural theories to demonstrate rewards and consequences to specific behaviours in real-world situations.
Through ABA, a child with ASD can improve social skills, communication skills, self-care, and the ability to manage their behaviour. Of course, it’s not a cure, but at least it’s a big step to helping your child transcend limiting symptoms.
ABA’s adaptable and flexible programs can address your child’s specific needs regardless of where they fall in the spectrum. For example, therapists use different teaching methods such as pivotal response training, discrete trial training, and verbal behaviour intervention, to improve their skills and quality of life.
Why is early intervention important?
With ABA therapy, the younger the child the better. Start them off at an early age, so there’s more time to reap results. Studies have proven that early intervention is highly effective for young children with delays in critical developmental skills. In addition, regular ABA sessions can help a child’s developmental path and maximise functional independence and quality of life.
Why choose AutismStep?
At AutismStep, we provide one-to-one sessions with our home-based program. We make it convenient for your child to experience a focused intervention in an environment where they are comfortable. What’s more, we conduct a thorough evaluation on which our Registered Behaviour Therapists and BCBA-licensed therapists base their customised treatment plans. As such, every session is tailored to your child’s needs.
Our team is equipped to provide holistic ABA sessions. We also give parents regular feedback on their child’s progression.