What are the Characteristics of High Functioning Autism?

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Autism Symptoms Range from Mild to Severe

Autism is a disorder of the brain that causes impairment of language, communication and social abilities. Rather than being a single condition, the symptoms of autism can range from mild to severe along the autistic spectrum. Individuals with severe autism may be completely unable to communicate or take care of themselves, while those with mild or high functioning autism may be able to lead relatively normal lives.

Asperger’s syndrome shares many of the same symptoms, and it is considered by many doctors to be a form of high functioning autism. The primary distinction between the two conditions is that children with Asperger’s syndrome do not have delayed language acquisition.

High Functioning Autism Characteristics

People with milder forms of autism do not have the extreme delay or profound lack of language development that is seen in more severe forms of the disorder. However, they still experience difficulty in many aspects on communication, in addition to exhibiting other characteristic symptoms.

Some common characteristics of high functioning autism include:

  • Average or above average intelligence, with an IQ of at least 85
  • Lack of communication skills; impaired ability to understand non-verbal communication and express emotion
  • Intense reactions to sensory stimuli, including sights, sounds, smells or textures
  • Fascination with or obessive interest in certain topics or categories of objects
  • Delayed motor skills, poor coordination

Individuals with high functioning autism do not avoid social contact, as is the case with more severe forms of autism. But while they have a desire to be involved with other people, they are lacking in certain types of social skills, such as the ability to understand other people’s emotions, read facial expressions or interpret body language. They also fail to understand humor or sarcasm, and take words literally. This lack of communication skills can lead to awkward social situations, and in school they are frequently teased, rejected or bullied by other students. This rejection and failure to connect and form friendships can cause feelings of isolation, sometimes leading to anxiety or depression.

Extreme sensitivity to sensory stimuli can cause people with high functioning autism to be distracted or disturbed by sounds, sights or smells that others may not even be aware of, or can easily ignore. Sensitivity to touch may cause them to dislike being touched in any way. They may also object to wearing clothes that are made of certain types of fabrics.

Obsessive interest in certain topics or objects is another one of the common characteristics of high functioning autism. People with this condition may focus on a topic such as trains, or a category of objects such as electrical appliances, and study it intensely.

In spite of the difficulty with communication and other symptoms, individuals with high functioning autism are usually able to take care of themselves independently once they reach adulthood.