Facing High Functioning Autism: Adults and the Challenges of Autism

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Personal Challenges for Adults with High Functioning Autism

High functioning autism is sometimes referred to as Asperger’s syndrome. It affects adults in a number of ways and can result in them feeling rejected by society. What are some of the issues faced by those with high functioning autism? Adults may face a variety of social challenges in particular. For example:

  • Social skills are poor, and adults with high functioning autism may misinterpret body language and facial expressions during a conversation. Some overcome this problem by watching closely as other people interact. By doing this, they learn what poses and expressions mean, and are able to imitate them in their own social interactions. This can be taught in a controlled group setting, as well.
  • Many autistic adults are unconcerned with fashion or personal appearance. This can leave them on the fringe of social groups. The solution could be as simple as asking someone who is good with clothing and fashion to accompany them on a shopping trip, or recommend a good hairdresser. Many stores offer free makeovers so people can try the cosmetics offered.
  • Adults with high functioning autism often encounter problems in their place of employment. They tend to work better if they are in a space of their own, as office chatter can be overwhelming and distracting. They also like routine, and a job that constantly changes may upset them. When seeking employment, adults with high functioning autism can ask to see the offices and obtain a full job description. This will enable them to make a wise decision if they are offered the position.

Challenges for Parents and Siblings of High Functioning Autism Adults

Although adults with high functioning autism may successfully hold down a job and live independently, they can still present family members with challenges that originate from their condition. These include the following:

  • Many high functioning autism adults have an obsessive interest that may have started out as a hobby. They tend to spend an inordinate amount of time on this interest and may also spend excessive amounts of money on buying objects as part of a related collection. In extreme cases, they may even attempt to steal items that are not for sale. Family members need to set guidelines depending on the circumstances and then follow through on these. Time and money limits are a good place to start and may be followed up with offers to take them out for coffee or do something else that they enjoy.
  • Adult bullying is not uncommon and many adults with high functioning autism have fallen into the hands of an office bully. The torment often bewilders them and, because they are unsure how to handle it, they say nothing. If family members notice the person is withdrawing or seems unhappy at work, it is worthwhile investigating the cause. In some cases it may be better for the person seek a new position. Otherwise, the family can coach them through the process of appealing against the bullying and putting their complaint into writing.

Challenges for Partners of High Functioning Autism Adults

Some adults with high functioning autism marry, and this can present their partners with a number of problems. These challenges may not be apparent in the early days of the relationship, but develop as years pass. If they are not dealt with, the outcome can be divorce or extreme unhappiness in the marriage. Here are some possible issues to look out for:

  • Some adults with high functioning autism may marry a person because they help them with the demands of daily life and look after them by mothering them. This will eventually kill any romance and leave the spouse feeling exhausted. Before things reach this stage, they should back out of doing certain things and encourage their partner to do them. This may include things such as making dentist appointments, getting the car serviced and doing the grocery shopping. They may need help and written instructions to begin, with but most high functioning autism adults can learn to manage the basics of life.

Adults with high functioning autism will always have challenges in life but with the correct training and the support of family, friends and partners, they can overcome these and go on to lead successful lives.


The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007

Pretending to be Normal by Liane Holliday Willey, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1999