Characteristics of High Functioning Autism in Children
Children with high-functioning autism generally have problems in three main areas. They are social interaction, speech and communication, and unusual interests and behaviors. While they may not be severely impaired, they will have weaknesses that set them aside as being different or odd in some way.
High Functioning Autism and Social Interaction
A child with high functioning autism does not seem to withdraw into their own little world like a child with classic autism may. Some desire friendship and often actively seek it – but are limited by their difficulty in understanding social cues and behavior. During a conversation, they may come across as awkward and unsure of themselves, and their lack of eye contact and facial expression can be off-putting.
It is typical for children with high-functioning autism to relate better to adults than peers. Adults are normally more accommodating of a child who does not fit in and may be able to discuss the child’s special interest at a higher intellectual level than a classmate.
High-Functioning Autism and Speech and Communication
Social interaction problems are often compounded by difficulties with speech. While the child may speak fluently, the way language is used is unusual. The style of speech may be stilted and formal and the delivery may be pedantic and flat. Other children speak very fast and don’t allow for pauses between sentences.
Some children may pick up phrases from movies and insert these into conversation. The comment may or may not be used in context but makes sense to the child.
High-Functioning Autism and Unusual Interests and Behaviors
Children with high-functioning autism often focus on certain interests. They typically include topics such as computers, video games, public transport, astronomy, and dinosaurs. Their interest may become an obsession, and they spend hours reading about the subject and recording facts and figures.
Their obsession may interfere with daily life, and parents have to set boundaries in place to ensure the child attends to school work and other priorities first. Even so, the special interest may absorb large chunks of time and the child may become isolated socially through it. Conversely, the obsession may open the way for membership in a club of like-minded people and the accompanying chance to make friends.
It is common for a child with high-functioning autism to talk endlessly about their interest. They often reel off lists of facts to strangers and annoy peers by launching into an extended monologue about airplanes, dinosaurs, or computers.
Children with high-functioning autism are usually of normal or above-average intelligence but are hampered by their lack of social skills, effective communication, and obsessions. However, it is possible for them to improve in these areas, and with the appropriate training and therapy they can find a place to fit in society.
A Parent’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome & High-Functioning Autism, Sally Ozonoff, Geraldine Dawson and James McPartland, The Guilford Press, 2002