Severe Autism Symptoms, Diagnosis & Management

As a parent, you monitor your child’s development very closely. So when you start to notice unusual behavior, you may worry that he or she has autism.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects as many as one in 59 kids. It includes high, moderate, and severe levels of need.

Children with severe autism require the most support, but even if your child has severe autism, you can access beneficial treatment. First, understand the signs and symptoms of severe autism, how it’s diagnosed, and ways to manage it effectively.

Identifying Severe Autism Symptoms

Autism affects every child differently.

In general, look for several signs and symptoms that help you identify if your child has severe autism.

Cognitive Impairment

A low IQ may indicate severe autism.

Language And Communication

While your child may be unable to speak or only speak some words, he or she can communicate thoughts, feelings, and needs with gestures, sounds, and behavior.

Social Limitations

Severe autism limits your child’s social interactions.

He or she may be unable to make eye contact, prefer to be alone, and misunderstand the intentions, body language, or communication efforts of other people.

Repetitive Non-Verbal Gestures

Self-expression can include non-verbal gestures such as pacing, arm flapping, jumping, moaning, or rocking.

Your child with severe autism may repeat these gestures for a few minutes at a time or for most of the day.


Your child may become preoccupied and focused on a ritual, object, or subject.


To cope with frustration, pain, sensory overload, or another issue, your child with severe autism may exhibit challenging behavior.

It may include inappropriate emotional outbursts, stimming, or aggression.

Emotional Expressions

A child with severe autism may express his or her emotions by laughing, crying, or shouting.
These expressions may occur with or without cause at appropriate or inappropriate times.


For stimulation, pain relief, or self-expression, your child may intentionally injure himself or herself.

Self-injury can include scratching, biting, pinching, head banging, or pica, which is eating non-food items.


Kicking, hitting, throwing, biting, and fecal smearing are examples of aggression your child may exhibit.

Aggression often occurs because your child cannot communicate, needs stimulation, or feels anxious.

Wandering Or Eloping

A child with severe autism may wander or run away without cause and to no particular destination.

Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensitivity to sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch can overwhelm a child with severe autism to the point that he or she cannot function.

Physical Issues

With limited communication ability, your child with severe autism may be unable to express physical pain and other issues.

Undiagnosed and untreated physical issues can affect your child’s behavior.

How Severe Autism Is Diagnosed

Because you know your child best, a severe autism diagnosis starts at home. You can observe your child for normal developmental milestones and discuss any concerns with your pediatrician.

While your pediatrician can screen your child at every checkup for developmental delays, a multidisciplinary team of professionals will give your child an official diagnosis.

These clinicians include:

  • Psychologists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Neurologists
  • Speech therapist
  • Other professionals

They evaluate and test your child’s neurological development, cognition, and language. They also talk to you about your child’s behavior.

Using this data, they then access the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V (DSM-5) to make an official diagnosis.

Severe Autism Symptoms Management

After you receive an official severe autism diagnosis for your child, seek professional help.

A team of autism specialists will create a treatment plan for your individual child. Because autism affects every child differently, it may take some time to create a treatment plan that works for your son or daughter. That’s why quick intervention is essential.

Successful treatment plans typically include therapy, medication, and other strategies and interventions. The treatment options can’t cure autism, but they do address your child’s specific severe autism symptoms.

Behavioral Interventions

Training sessions and therapeutic activities help your child develop appropriate behavioral responses to stimuli, emotions, and frustrations.

Tools like Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) uses repetition and positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior.

Speech Therapy

Encourage your child to communicate verbally or through augmentative and alternative communication, such as sign language, picture cards, or digital tools.

Occupational Therapy

Help your child become as independent as possible thanks to occupational therapy.

This intervention can assist your child in learning daily hygiene tasks and developing play, social, and emotional skills.

Physical Therapy

Because some children with severe autism have low muscle tone or coordination, use physical therapy to strengthen your child’s body and improve its function.


Relieve symptoms such as anxiety, impulsivity, depression, and pica with medication.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Assist your child in coping with the specific sensory challenges he or she faces.

Predictable Routine

Reduce stress and anxiety with a routine that stays the same day after day.

Medical Treatment

A child’s behavior may stem from a food intolerance or a physical ailment like a cold, stomach bug, or ear infection.

Seek medical treatment to address physical concerns that aggravate severe autism symptoms.

Family Counseling

Equip your family members to cope with the challenges you face as you live with a child with severe autism.

Family counseling can also provide training that helps you implement the therapy techniques that work for your child.

Understanding & Managing Severe Autism Symptoms

Having a child with severe autism is challenging.

Fortunately, you can use this list of symptoms to identify if your child has severe autism and then receive an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan.

With intervention and help, your child can live with dignity and reach his or her full potential.

You may also be interested in these other autism resources:

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