Autism severity and its relationship to disability

Einat Waizbard-Bartov, Deborah Fein, Catherine Lord, David G. Amaral

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

6 Scopus citations


Autism severity is currently defined and measured based exclusively on the severity levels of the two core symptom domains: social-communication and restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviors and interests. Autistic individuals, however, are often diagnosed with other medical, developmental, and psychological co-occurring conditions. These additional challenges such as intellectual disability, limited expressive and/or receptive language, and anxiety disorders, can have a tremendous impact on the day-to-day lives of autistic individuals, for both their adaptive functioning as well as their sense of wellbeing. Furthermore, the initial presentation of core symptoms and their likelihood of changing over time are influenced by the presence of such co-occurring conditions. In order to truly understand how a person's autism impacts their life, both core symptoms as well as other challenges should be considered. This approach was recently taken byThe Lancet Commission on the future of care and clinical research in autism, which proposed the term “profound autism” for a subgroup of individuals presenting with high core symptom severity, co-occurring intellectual disability, and little or no language, who require extensive long-term care. Considering other individual factors such as daily living skills, specific support needs and environmental resources would also enhance the evaluation of disability in autistic individuals. As currently employed in the assessment of intellectual disability, a multidimensional approach to autism could provide a more comprehensive system for classification of impairment. At present, however, there is no formal way to designate the combined effect of these different aspects of autism on a person's life. A comprehensive outlook that acknowledges impairments, capabilities, co-occurring conditions, and environmental factors would be useful for identifying subgroups of individuals as well as for determining individual needs and strengths in clinical assessments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)685-696
Number of pages12
JournalAutism Research
Issue number4
Early online date14 Feb 2023
StatePublished - Apr 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Einat Waizbard‐Bartov was supported by an Autism Speaks Predoctoral Fellowship grant #12841 during the preparation of this commentary.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Autism Research published by International Society for Autism Research and Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • ADOS calibrated severity score
  • autism severity
  • autism spectrum disorder
  • autism symptoms
  • profound autism
  • symptom severity change


Dive into the research topics of 'Autism severity and its relationship to disability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this