What is High Functioning Autism? Insight into High Functioning Autism

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Who is Autistic?

In the last decade or so, there has been a movement by those with autism, their caregivers, and mental health experts to classify the impact of the disorder on autistic individuals. Many in the autism community feel that a blanket use of the word “autism” has created a belief within society that all persons labeled autistic suffer from the same symptoms or exhibit similar behaviors. But the reality is very different.

A person who is diagnosed as having autism usually presents delays or abnormal development in communication (verbal and nonverbal) and social interaction (i.e. playing with others, showing objects to parents). They may also exhibit repetitive behavior and fixated interest (i.e. hand flapping or fascination with a single subject). There are five different types of autism and this article will answer the question, “what is high functioning autism?”

High Functioning Autism

What is high functioning autism? At present, the definition varies depending on who you speak to.

The term usually refers to individuals on the autism spectrum with an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 80 or above who can speak, read, and write within normal ranges of proficiency. Although the individual may have average or even above average intelligence, he or she may display autistic behaviors or characteristics.

Interestingly, high functioning autism is not listed as an official diagnosis. In the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the term is not listed or referenced. The American Psychiatric Association which publishes the DSM does not specify ‘how autistic’ a person is within the autism spectrum disorder.

Thus terms such as “low functioning" and “high functioning” are informal designations.

Is High Functioning Autism the same as Asperger’s Syndrome?

Although some people use the terms high functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome interchangeably, there are not synonymous.

Individuals with Asperger’s are considered to be on the autism spectrum. However, there is one major distinction between high functioning autism and Asperger’s. Aspies do not have any language delays in childhood. Their language skills might even be considered advanced for their age.

People with high functioning autism have developmental delays in communication. One of the main indicators of autism in young children is a pronounced delay in speech or language development.

Symptoms of High Functioning Autism

Individuals with high functioning autism display many of the same symptoms as individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.

The symptoms are as follows:

  • Inability to make or keep friends
  • Need or enjoy routine or order
  • May appear clumsy
  • Appear to lack empathy
  • Cannot recognize differences in tone or pitch of another speaker
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Conduct long, one-sided conversations on limited topics
  • Appear uninterested in others
  • Fail to recognize subtle emotional cues in facial expressions
  • Repetitive motions (i.e. pen twirling)

Although these symptoms may be mild, they impact the autistic person’s ability to have normal interactions with his or her peers.

What is high functioning autism to the rest of the world? It is a disorder that makes some individuals act or appear strange. Which is why though highly intelligent, people with high functioning autism still struggle to find social acceptance.

A Final Word on High Functioning Autism

Persons with high functioning autism have many advantages over individuals on the other end of the autism spectrum. They are usually able to find employment, they are capable of independently performing daily life skills, and they can clearly communicate their wants and needs.

Most importantly, they can be taught how to pick up on subtle nonverbal cues and appropriate social interactions. In short, most high functioning autistic individuals can be very successful in living independently and caring for themselves.

Despite their diagnosis, they will be able to mix and interact with the outside world.