By: Carl Smoot, PhD, Shane A. Whiting, Ph.D., LMFT, Brandon Moffitt, LPC
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is defined as having persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts.
Levels of Autism
The current DSM-5 diagnostic manual has separated the disorder into three varying degrees:
- Level 1: Requiring Support
- Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support
- Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support
In this article, we will focus specifically on level 1 autism, distinguishing traits of level 1 autism, and how specialized treatment such as a wilderness adventure therapy or a residential program can help.
Defining the Traits and Behaviors of Level 1 Autism
Individuals with level 1 autism, without proper support, will display noticeable impairments in social communication. Common behaviors in individuals with level 1 autism include:
- Inflexibility in behavior and thought
- Difficulty switching between activities
- Problems with executive functioning which hinder independence
- Atypical response to others in social situations
- Difficulty initiating social interactions and maintaining reciprocity in social interaction
Theory of Mind in Specialized Treatment Programs for Level 1 Autism
One of the most effective ways to treat level 1 autism is through utilizing the Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind and adaptive skills-based treatment that targets executive function, emotional regulation, cognitive flexibility, social communication skills, and anxiety reduction. These are all critical aspects in the field of Level 1 treatment, particularly in specialized treatment programs such as Vantage Point, Black Mountain Academy, and Daniels Academy.
Theory of Mind is the ability to accurately predict or attune to the thoughts, intentions, feelings, and perspective of another person. Individuals with autism have delays in this particular development. As a toddler, a neurotypical child will transition into a phase of cooperative play in which theory of mind begins to develop. Ideally, the child begins to be aware of the needs and feelings of those around them. When a theory of mind does not develop, early adolescence is marked with delays in social maturation, social/emotional problem solving, and cognitive flexibility all of which play a crucial part in adaptive function.
Enrolling a teen in a specialized program that both understands and executes Theory of Mind can help these individuals with ASD become more aware of other perspectives in addition to learning social skills and adaptability.
Wilderness Adventure Therapy and Specialized Residential Programs as Treatment for Level 1 Autism
Additionally, for teens with level 1 autism, a credible wilderness adventure therapy program, such as Vantage Point by Aspiro, or a smaller residential programs such as Daniel’s Academy or Black Mountain Academy, can be a highly effective treatment option in helping these individuals improve their social skills, establish healthier patterns, and learn how to make smooth transitions.
Vantage Point: Short-Term Program as Treatment for Level 1 Autism
Short-term wilderness adventure therapy programs such as Vantage Point should be considered as an intervention, foundation, and starting point for level 1 autism treatment. When students first begin treatment in a specialized program like Vantage Point, they participate in a variety of adventure activities, service, and community involvement. This helps lay the foundation for them to establish a connection with the people and the world around them. This is especially effective in a short-term specialized treatment program because of the novel and new environment.
Daniels Academy and Black Mountain Academy: Long-Term Care for Level 1 Autism
With Vantage Point and other short-term programs serving as a starting off point, long-term programs such as Daniel’s Academy and Black Mountain Academy provide students with ongoing reinforcement, application, and long-term efforts to solidify new skills. A long-term residential program is able to teach teens with ASD these skills on a long-term basis through project-based learning systems as a way to collaboratively solve problems that have real-world applications.
Ultimately, both long-term and short-term programs help teens with ASD break through boundaries, build awareness, and establish healthier cognitive and behavioral patterns. Students with ASD who enroll in a specialized treatment program learn how to reduce their stress through coping skills and learn how to increase their flexibility and improve their social skills. The students are able to make lasting change and internalize these skills through cognitive behavioral, collaboration and communication, consistency, active training, verbal praise, and encouragement.
Each individual with autism is unique. The level of disability and combination of symptoms can vary dramatically on the autism spectrum which makes it essential for every child and teen with ASD to get a proper diagnosis and the treatment they need. For teens with level 1 autism, a credible wilderness adventure therapy program or residential program can help refine and teach these individuals how to work through their executive function deficits through individualized care and research-based model to facilitate lifelong growth and lasting change.
This article is brought to you by Aspiro Group. To learn more about the authors of this article, click here.
About Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy
The Aspiro Adventure programs are uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research-backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at all of the Aspiro group programs understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.
All of our programs focus on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way. Aspiro group programs include Aspiro Adventure, Daniel’s Academy, Vantage Point, Pure Life, Black mountain Academy, and Outback.