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What is High Functioning Autism?

July 29, 2021


Many neurodevelopmental conditions vary in expression. Such is the case for children or individuals with autism. There’s a common saying in the autism community that “no two people with autism are the same”, and this is because traits of autism are different between each and every single person on the spectrum.

What is High Functioning Autism? https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/high-functioning-autism-other-types-of-autism

Autism symptoms can vary depending on where on the spectrum the person or child is. Now, there’s no linear line that defines where on the spectrum the person may find themselves; however, the spectrum is generally classified between either high functioning autism or low functioning autism. 

In this article we will briefly dive into defining what autism is, and thereafter explore the topic of high functioning autism.

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High Functioning Autism and Other Types of Autism

What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a broad term used to describe a grouping of neurodevelopmental conditions. It can often affect a person’s way of interacting with others. People with autism often experience the world differently than their neurotypical peers. While the term autism covers a broad spectrum of symptoms, it is typically characterized by a delay in speech, social, and motor skills as well as repetitive behaviors. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, an estimated one in 59 children has been diagnosed with ASD and it is reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.

While there is no “cure” for autism, there are a multitude of therapies and medications available to help with some of the related symptoms such as sleeplessness, seizures, trouble focusing, and depression. Studies have shown that medication is most effective when it’s combined with behavioral therapies.

The autism spectrum

The autism spectrum refers to the set of developmental delays that involve social, motor, and language skills. The spectrum is broad, covering different faces of autism. Because of this spectrum, people with autism can have differing personalities. Some can be talkative, while others are aloof. Some are affectionate while others are not. There are so many differences to be considered.

Different types of autism

No two people with autism have the same symptoms and behavior. And because there are so many variables involved in autism diagnosis, the way each person experiences and exhibits autism can be very different. 

There are varying diagnoses within the category of autism, and under the umbrella of high functioning autism subtypes include asperger’s syndrome, pathological demand avoidance, Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) — also known as atypical autism. Sometimes doctors will indicate a child has mild or severe autism or even mention Broad Autism Phenotype. 

For the purpose of this article, we will focus on defining what high functioning autism is, and how it is expressed.

What is high functioning autism?

High functioning autism is used to describe people with autism with standard intelligence who can read, write, and speak. It is not a medical term and is used informally to stress a particular group of people with autism who do not fall under the category of classic autism.


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People with high functioning autism may exhibit a delay or lack of social skills. They can have difficulty understanding the feelings and reactions of others which can make them appear to be insensitive at times. Some people may struggle to interact and insist on talking about things they are passionate about instead.  Sarcasm and humor are sometimes lost to a person with high functioning autism, and he/she might prefer to rely on movies and books to learn about social customs.

High functioning autism characteristics

You might wonder, “What does high functioning autism look like in adults?,” or “How do we recognize high functioning autism in children?” Because there are no obvious indicators that a person has high functioning autism, it can be hard to spot and diagnose. Conducting accurate autism tests is crucial to identifying traits of high functioning autism.

Parents and school personnel are sometimes not able to notice high functioning autism behaviors until a child is older and social interactions become more complex and, at the same time, become a bigger part of his/her life. A person with high functioning autism may thrive academically but struggle socially, which will have an impact on his/her confidence and self-esteem.

High functioning autism symptoms include:

  • Little or limited eye contact
  • Problems understanding verbal cues
  • Challenges relating to humor and/or sarcasm
  • Monotonous voice
  • Narrow interests and obsessions
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Clumsiness and sensitivity to specific stimuli

As introduced, under the umbrella of high functioning autism, we have subtypes such as asperger’s syndrome, pathological demand avoidance, Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) or atypical autism. 

Of  these, PDD-NOS or atypical autism is still a wonder for many. So let’s take a quick glance at PDD-NOS before diving into how to manage symptoms of high functioning autism.

What is PDD-NOS?

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified) or PDD-NOS was a subtype of autism spectrum disorder before it was removed from the DSM-5 diagnostic manual.

PDD-NOS was used to refer to people with autism who do not fully meet the criteria to warrant a classic autism diagnosis. It’s a diagnosis used for someone who has some but not all characteristics of autism. Unlike asperger’s syndrome, people with pervasive developmental disorders have minor challenges in language and cognitive development.

Pervasive developmental disorders signs and symptoms

  • Challenges in socializing and communicating with others
  • Unusual play with toys
  • Repetitive body movements (stimming)
  • Resistance to change in routine

Managing symptoms of PDD-NOS

Treatments for PDD-NOS are mostly similar to those meant for other types of autism. However, children diagnosed with PDD-NOS are advised to pursue an Early Intervention Program (EIP) for a preschool child or Individual Education Program (IEP) for a school-age child.

Regardless of where you may find yourself on the spectrum, or your child may be on the autism spectrum, there are several resources available for managing symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

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High Functioning Autism and Other Types of Autism

Although there are several intervention strategies and resources available for the autism community, social skills training and applied behavioral analysis (ABA) are some of the common forms of interventions available.

Common intervention strategies for high functioning autism include

Social skills training

Social Skills Training is now emerging as a way for people on the spectrum to deal with social challenges. Social skill therapists come from different medical backgrounds but are all working toward one goal: to provide people with autism the ability to converse, share, play, and work with typical peers.

Applied behavioral analysis (ABA)

ABA, which is known to be the most effective treatment for autism, can benefit a person with high functioning autism as it assists in managing challenging behaviors through positive reinforcement while teaching social and motor skills.

Summing up

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex condition that encompasses several subtypes. Wherever you or your child may find himself/herself on the spectrum, it does not lessen the capabilities of each individual.

Whether an individual is considered “neurotypical” or “neurodivergent”, each person is capable of immense potential regardless of what the diagnosis may look like. 

Resources:

Characteristics of Individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Retrieved from https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/characteristics

Does My Child Have Autism? Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/autism-learning-disabilities/does-my-child-have-autism.htm/

Childhood disintegrative disorder. Retrieved from http://www.minddisorders.com/Br-Del/Childhood-disintegrative-disorder.html

Early Intervention for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder Under 3 Years of Age: Recommendations for Practice and Research. (October 2015). Retrieved from https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/136/Supplement_1/S60

Diagnostic Criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder. (2013). Retrieved from: https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/Diagnostic-Criteria-for-Autism-Spectrum-Disorder

Autism Parenting Magazine aims to deliver informed resources and guidance, but information cannot be guaranteed by the publication or its writers. Our content is never intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician with any questions you may have and never disregard medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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