Challenges Faced by Children with High Functioning Autism
Friendless. Misunderstood. Teased. Labeled. Isolated. These words describe life for many of the children who have been diagnosed with high functioning autism.
Autism is a complex neurological disorder that affects social interaction and communication: two of the most basic tools a person needs to live in our society. Children with high functioning autism are aware that they are unlike their peers. Some try to interact with other kids, but are often rebuffed or ignored. The challenges these children face can be heartbreaking.
But with early intervention and specialized therapies, high functioning autism children can make friends, learn to communicate effectively, and become productive, happy adults. The challenges won't disappear overnight, but they can be managed and even resolved with the right kind of help.
The 5 Biggest Challenges
- The Inability to make friends.
Most children go through a phase where they are unpopular or don't have many friends. For many high functioning (HFA) autistic children, this phase seems to never end. The problem lies with how most autistic children are perceived. Many of them don't understand or use humor, so they are deemed unemotional. They appear to lack empathy because they don't react as a typical child would when they see others hurt or cry. They don't initiate conversations or engage other children in play; therefore other children avoid or ignore them.
The challenge for parents of high functioning autistic children is to break their child out of their own safe, closed world. Joining clubs, going to the park, setting play dates, and engaging their child in other "normal" activities must be attempted. Autistic children need to be exposed to typical children doing typical things.
It might be uncomfortable or even terrifying to an HFA child at first, but eventually most will begin to interact on some level as they learn to tolerate activities outside of their own limited interests.
- Being misunderstood by others.
Most children and even adults don't understand autism. The most common misconception is that autism is synonymous with mental retardation. Many people are shocked to learn that children with high functioning autism have normal to above average intelligence. Although these children may have deficits in expressive language and socializing, they do understand what is happening around them and desire to interact appropriately with others.
Educating the public has become one of the greatest missions taken on by parents, mental health professionals, researchers, and others within the autism community. Organizations such as Autism Speaks, Defeat Autism Now, Autism Society of America and others are working to dispel many of the myths and inaccuracies that persist. The more the general public learns about individuals with high functioning autism, the easier it will become for autistic people to fully participate in the world around them.
Teasing by other children.
Teasing is a common childhood problem. Most children are victims of teasing in some form or other. Many children engage in teasing children with autism because they don't understand them or why they act, speak, or behave a certain way.
Typical children need to be taught about high functioning autism, its traits and associated behaviors. Once they understand what they are seeing and hearing, they usually become more accepting and understanding of their autistic peers.
Labeled as special needs.
A diagnosis of high functioning autism can be both a blessing and a curse. For the individual with autism and his or her family, knowing that the child has autism can help explain behaviors and communication issues they didn't understand and help them access the right services and interventions.
On the other hand, a label of autism may cause a child to be treated differently by teachers, family members, and peers.
The label helps caregivers, and professionals know how to address particular issues or behaviors with an autistic child. It shouldn't be used to place limitations on him or her. Parents must make sure they advocate for what is best for their child as an individual. They should not let the label dictate what resources and services their child should or should not receive.
Isolated from others.
Children with high functioning autism report they are often lonely. They state they don't know how to appropriately interact with other children or even their own families. Many desire to have friends, play, and talk the way others do. They simply don't know how.
Some of the best strategies involve explicitly teaching high functioning autism children how to make friends, how to play with other children, and even how to have a real conversation. Because they have normal to high intelligence, HFA children can learn and apply strategies that make communication and socializing easier.
Intervention is Key
Life for high functioning autism children is far from easy. However, parents should not lose hope. With early intervention and the right ongoing therapies, children with high functioning autism can lead happy and productive lives.
The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome Atwood, Tony, Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2006
A Parent's Guide to Asperger's Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism Ozonoff, Sally and Dawson, Geraldine, The Guilford Press New York 2002