Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disorder that affects communication, behavior, and social interaction. Within the spectrum, severe autism represents a range where individuals exhibit more significant challenges. Understanding the nuances of severe autism symptoms is crucial in debunking common misconceptions and providing appropriate support.

What Is Severe Autism?

Severe autism — also known as Level 3 ASD — is characterized by substantial impairments in verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, as well as the presence of repetitive behaviors. Individuals with severe autism often require substantial support in their daily lives. 

Common Misconceptions About Severe Autism

Misconception 1: Limited Potential for Growth

One of the most damaging misconceptions is that individuals with severe autism have limited potential for growth or improvement. With personalized support and interventions, many can develop communication skills and learn to manage challenging behaviors. Engaging in activities tailored to each individual’s interests and abilities can foster growth and development.

Misconception 2: Inability to Form Emotional Connections

It’s a common belief that individuals with severe autism are incapable of forming emotional connections. This is untrue. While they may express emotions differently, many can form deep bonds with family, friends, and caregivers. Understanding and supporting autistic behaviors can enhance these connections.

Misconception 3: Severe Autism Is Always Accompanied by Intellectual Disability

While some individuals with severe autism may also have an intellectual disability, it is not a given and the two are not exactly synonymous, although they can be similar. Autism is a spectrum, and cognitive abilities can vary widely. It’s important to assess and support each individual’s unique strengths and challenges.

Misconception 4: Challenging Behavior Is Defiant or Purposeful

Challenging behaviors in severe autism — such as aggression or self-injury — are often misunderstood as defiant or purposeful. In reality, these behaviors can be communication attempts or responses to overwhelming sensory input. Strategies for managing challenging behavior in severe autism should focus on understanding the underlying causes and teaching alternative coping mechanisms.

The Importance of Autism Awareness Month

April is recognized as Autism Awareness Month and World Autism Month — beginning with World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd — and is a time dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding of ASD. This observance is crucial for several reasons:

  • Promoting Acceptance: Autism Awareness Month helps promote acceptance of individuals with autism by highlighting their strengths and challenges. It encourages society to embrace diversity and recognize the unique contributions of individuals with autism.
  • Advancing Research: The observance is an opportunity to raise funds for and awareness of ongoing research into the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of autism. Research is essential for developing effective interventions and improving the quality of life for individuals with autism.
  • Advocating for Rights and Needs: Autism Awareness Month is a platform to advocate for the rights and needs of individuals with autism. It emphasizes the importance of access to education, healthcare, employment, and community support.
  • Educating the Public: By dispelling myths and sharing accurate information, Autism Awareness Month helps educate the public about the realities of living with autism. This increased understanding can lead to greater empathy and support.
  • Fostering Inclusivity: The observance encourages communities, schools, and workplaces to become more inclusive and supportive of individuals with autism. It highlights the importance of accommodations and adaptations that enable individuals with autism to thrive.
  • Celebrating Diversity: Autism Awareness Month celebrates the diversity within the autism community. It recognizes that individuals with autism have a wide range of abilities and challenges, and that each person’s experience is unique.
  • Empowering Individuals and Families: The observance is a time to empower individuals with autism and their families by providing them with resources, support, and a platform to share their experiences and advocate for their needs.

By observing Autism Awareness Month and World Autism Month, as well as World Autism Awareness Day, we can foster a more inclusive and supportive society for individuals with autism. It is an opportunity to come together as a community to promote acceptance, advance research, and advocate for the rights and needs of individuals with autism.

Addressing the misconceptions surrounding severe autism is essential for fostering understanding and support. By debunking myths and providing accurate information, we can create a more inclusive environment for individuals with severe autism. As we observe Autism Awareness Month and World Autism Month, let’s commit to spreading awareness, promoting acceptance, and supporting the autism community in all its diversity!

At New Concepts for Living (NCFL), our mission is to serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and it is the fundamental force that makes us the premier community for adults with IDD in New Jersey. We are committed to caring for and nurturing adults challenged with special needs so they can attain their highest levels of wellness, independence, and achievement. This commitment includes providing community residences, critical social networks, community inclusion, and the resources they need to be successful and live long, fulfilling lives.

Our meticulously maintained homes and caring staff enable us to provide the highest level of service for the individuals we care for. We also work to continuously improve our services and homes to offer, now and in the future, the best care for our residents, including our new medically fragile homes, which use tools like ceiling lift track systems.

In addition, NCFL has an Adult Achievement Center Day Program that offers the most extensive and diverse calendar of activities for those we serve. We understand that being busy and productive is the key to leading a fulfilling life and promoting mental health.

We recognize the need for quality services for every extraordinary individual in northern New Jersey and are committed to expanding. NCFL is opening community residences (group homes) in Old Tappan, Mahwah, Hillsdale, and River Vale — as well as planning to open a larger, state-of-the-art Day Program Facility in 2024 — and is dedicated to finding ways to further expand to better serve our community! You can learn more about the work we do, make a donation to support our mission, contact us for more information, or request placement for a loved one today!

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