The Difference Between Moderate To Severe Autism

Every person with autism will face social, communication, and behavior challenges, and they will need ongoing assistance and support.

However, autism is a developmental disorder that’s a spectrum, meaning children with autism may experience mild, moderate, or severe symptoms and impairments.

Understanding Differences In Moderate To Severe Autism

As the parent of a child with autism, identifying the differences between moderate to severe autism assists you in understanding your child and helping him or her achieve a quality of life and the highest possible level of independence possible.

Here are some of the differences in moderate to severe autism.

Behavior For Moderate To Severe Autism

Communication and intellectual challenges cause children with moderate autism to exhibit many unusual behaviors. They may flap their arms, rock, hit, bite, scratch, or become obsessed with an object when they’re bored, upset, happy, frustrated, overwhelmed, or unable to share their thoughts or feelings.

While these and other behaviors are a way of communicating, they can be scary and dangerous to family members, onlookers, and the child. Certain behaviors will remain quirks for life, but therapy, communication strategies, and other tools can help children learn to cope and communicate better so they remain safe.

The behaviors of children with severe autism are similar to those exhibited by children with moderate autism to a greater degree. Typically difficult to manage, these behaviors can include a variety of self-soothing, stimulating, or communicative behaviors like rocking, flapping and jumping as well as aggression toward others and self-abuse.

Beneficial therapy can help children with severe autism cope and communicate, but they may continue to exhibit these behaviors on some level throughout their lives.

Communication & Language For Moderate To Severe Autism

Communication and language capabilities are generally limited in children with moderate autism. They may acquire language skills later than normal and speak below their age level. In some cases, children with moderate autism are nonverbal and unable to speak words.

Depending on intellectual abilities, children with moderate autism may learn to communicate through pictures, typing, or via other communication devices.

Many children with severe autism have very limited communication and language abilities. If they can speak, they repeat words and phrases they hear others say or say only a few words that do not fit the context.

Despite serious limitations, though, children with severe autism can communicate through sounds, groans, and behaviors. Parents use observation, interaction, and speech therapy to understand their child and discover ways to improve communication and language.

Children with moderate autism may or may not interact with peers. They generally struggle to make eye contact, interpret body language and emotions, and understand figures of speech, and they may simply walk away from conversations that don’t involve their favorite topics or interests.

However, children with moderate autism can play near or with peers unless their repetitive behaviors like arm flapping or rocking, limited speech capabilities, and aggression scare peers who don’t understand the disorder.

The limitations of children with severe autism greatly reduce social interactions. These children often cannot control their repetitive behaviors and may express their discomfort, thoughts, and emotions through violent meltdowns that hinder community involvement.

Limited speech also hinders conversations, an essential part of socializing, unless they learn to communicate via alternative methods.

Sensory Concerns For Moderate To Severe Autism

Sensitivity to textures, tastes, sights, sounds, and aromas can be a challenge for children with moderate autism.

When faced with overwhelming sensory input, they may meltdown and display behaviors like rocking, moaning, or aggression. Parents must know their child’s sensory concerns and take steps to create a non-threatening environment with limitations on sensory triggers. They can turn down the lights, serve preferred foods, and reduce household noise.

Additionally, they can use behavior therapy and other strategies to help their child develop coping skills and become more comfortable in less-than-ideal environments.

Because of sensory concerns, children with severe autism must often live in a very structured and predictable environment. They may be unable to tolerate loud noises, certain aromas, or any touching.

To prevent meltdowns or self-injurious behavior, parents must create a non-threatening environment and limit their child’s exposure to sensory triggers. In cases, therapy can help children with severe autism manage sensory concerns to a degree over time.

Education For Moderate To Severe Autism

Although children with moderate autism may have some intellectual or learning disabilities, they can often attend school. Because a mainstream classroom is usually overwhelming, children with moderate autism may enroll in an autism support classroom in a traditional school setting or attend a school specifically designed for students with autism.

Special accommodations in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) provide beneficial supports that help the children maximize strengths, improve weaknesses, and gain valuable academic, social, emotional, and life skills.

Some children with severe autism have intellectual challenges that make learning difficult. A traditional school setting is impossible to navigate and even an autistic support classroom may be overwhelming.

However, small, therapeutic settings in a traditional or autism specific school can provide an environment that helps children with severe autism learn and grow. Here, educators follow a specialized and individualized plan for each child. With these supports, children with severe autism learn valuable skills.

Level Of Care For Moderate To Severe Autism

With behavior and occupational therapies, children with moderate autism can achieve a level of independence.

Often, they can learn to dress, bathe, and feed themselves, and they may even be able to hold a job eventually. Intellectual and other challenges may hinder complete independence, though. They will always need someone to ensure their safety, provide for daily needs, and manage their treatment plan, including therapy and medical care.

Children with severe autism typically need 24/7 care and supervision. Thanks to therapy, they can learn basic self-care. However, they will need assistance performing many activities of daily living, managing health care, and functioning in daily life.

Parents must carefully choose caregivers and respite workers who understand autism and can meet their child’s specific needs in a safe and effective manner.

Understanding Challenges Of Moderate To Severe Autism

Children with moderate to severe autism face similar yet different challenges.

Understand what type of autism your child has as you create a plan that nurtures and equips your loved one to reach his or her full potential and live a life of safety, comfort, and dignity.

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