High-Functioning Autism Treatments: An Overview

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Defining High Functioning Autism

Autism is a neurological condition that interferes with a person’s ability to communicate and interact socially with others. High-functioning autism is an informal term that attempts to categorize how impacted by the disorder an individual is.

Listed are some of the characteristics used to distinguish high-functioning autism from Asperger’s, low functioning autism, PDD-NOS, and other developmental disorders.

Characteristics of High-Functioning Autism

  • IQ of 80 or above
  • ability to read, write, and speak
  • may appear to lack empathy
  • monotone speech or lack of appropriate intonation, expression
  • lack of eye contact
  • likes or demands routine or sameness
  • limited or obsessive interest in a particular topic or subject
  • may be clumsy or seem uncoordinated

Although individuals with high-functioning autism experience severe difficulty with social interaction and communication, with specialized treatment or therapy they can learn many skills in these areas to help them succeed in society.

Here, you will learn about some of the most effective high functioning autism treatments.

Treatments for High-Functioning Autism

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has been deemed by many autism experts as the most effective high-functioning autism treatment. Applied behavior analysis is a scientific approach to examining behavior and what in the environment affects it (negatively or positively). One principle of ABA is using positive reinforcement to reward appropriate behavior. For example, during speech therapy a child may be asked to repeat a sound or word. When successful, they are given a reinforcer. The belief is as appropriate behavior is rewarded, the child will learn to repeat the desired behavior. As a consequence there should also be a decrease in negative or inappropriate behaviors as well. This method has been well researched and documented and has proved to be extremely effective for many individuals with autism.

  • TEACCH is the acronym for Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication Handicapped Children. This method is a highly structured program to teach communication skills to people with learning disabilities including all levels and ages on the autism spectrum. TEACCH methodology is structured around the belief that people with autism are predominantly visual learners. Their environment should be organized so work, school, tasks, and schedules are filled with visual cues and aids. TEACCH advocates believe that many of the negative autistic behaviors are the result of individuals not knowing what to do in an unfamiliar situation. Therefore, each individual is given a personalized program which is geared to address what is appropriate in certain situations, while acknowledging his or her strengths and weaknesses. Begun at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, TEACCH has become internationally recognized as an effective, evidence-based intervention program that recognizes the “culture of autism.” Instead of seeking to cure the disorder, TEACCH instructors work with those affected by autism and other disabilities so they can learn to lead full, meaningful lives.

  • Speech and Language Therapy is also a successful tool for helping high-functioning autism individuals. Although they are able to speak, read, and write, individuals with high-functioning autism need assistance in learning how to use and interpret facial expressions, intonation, humor, and other nuances of language.

  • Physical and Occupational Therapy can help develop the fine and gross motor skills lacking in many individuals with high-functioning autism. Since many with high-functioning autism have poor gross motor skills and difficulty with balance or coordination, physical and occupational therapies are effective means to help them improve these skills through play, exercise, and other activities.

Alternative Treatments

There are a few other effective high-functioning autism treatments. Those treatments are generally reserved for autistic individuals who also have other, co-existing conditions or illnesses.

They are:

  • chiropractic massage
  • gluten-free and/or casein-free diets
  • medications for anxiety or depression such as Zoloft and Prozac

Medications are usually prescribed to treat some behaviors (i.e. hyperactivity) that result from another condition but not the autism itself.

High-functioning autism, like all forms of autism spectrum disorder, is not curable. However, it is treatable. The best treatments come in the form of specialized therapy that seeks to promote appropriate social and communication behaviors.


Hirsch, David. High-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome. WebMD, September 2009. Retrieved at https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/high-functioning-autism.

Hogan, Kerry. Recommendations for students with high-functioning autism. University of North Carolina, TEACCH program. Retrieved at https://teacch.com/educational-approaches/recommendations-for-students-with-high-functioning-autism-kerry-hogan.