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What is “High Functioning” Autism?

No one likes being labeled. Since autism is a spectrum disorder, the characteristics can range in severity. Many people dislike the term “high functioning” autism. They feel it unfairly characterizes individuals into a set of symptoms. Everyone on the spectrum is an individual. 

Many feel that those with the label of “high-functioning” won’t receive coverage for services that they need. An autism diagnosis can mean you have more severe symptoms or less severe symptoms, but that you still have some symptoms that affect your daily life.

If you suspect your child has autism but they don’t display all the early signs, it is still possible that they are on the spectrum and could therefore benefit from therapy. No one person with autism is the same.

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be diagnosed at any age but is known as a developmental disorder because symptoms typically show up in the first few years of a child’s life. 

This disorder affects communication, socialization, and behavior. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is used by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as a guide to diagnosing mental disorders. It explains that people with ASD often have:

  • Limited interests
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Difficulty communicating and interacting with others
  • Other symptoms that can affect their ability to function in work, school, and other situations

There is a wide variety of symptom types and severity, so this list is not exhaustive, but it is a starting place for understanding the disorder overall. What is high functioning autism?

A Bit of Autism Diagnostic History

Historically, autism was reserved as a diagnosis for those with severe symptoms. In the 1990s, autism started to be broken down into different forms based on the severity of symptoms. This was due to the recognition that more than just severely affected people could have the disorder. 

This led to diagnoses of Asperger’s Syndrome and the similarly characterized and often interchangeable high functioning autism. It allowed for the “spectrum” of autism to be utilized, but classified autism into subsets by giving different names to different levels of acuity or characteristics. 

In 2013, the DSM-5 was updated to its current version that grouped all autism-related disorders into one term: Autism spectrum disorder. As a result, terms like Asperger’s are no longer in use.

What is “High Functioning” Autism?

“High functioning” autism isn’t an official medical diagnosis. It is a term that some use to refer to people with autism whose symptoms are not as severe or limiting. Those who are considered “high functioning” can more easily read, write, speak, and more independently manage life skills. 

Individuals with less severe symptoms may live independently, and carry a job. While they do have several characteristics that are on the spectrum and contribute to the overall diagnosis of autism, they typically don’t have the same difficulties as those with more severe diagnoses. This means they don’t typically have delays in the areas of language and cognitive development. Similarly, they may demonstrate more age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior and curiosity about the environment.

However, those with “high functioning” autism do typically exhibit certain traits, which can include the following:

  • Emotional sensitivity
  • Linguistic oddities
  • Social difficulties
  • Problems processing physical sensations
  • Fixation on particular subjects or ideas

Is There a Way to Treat Autism?

While there is no cure for ASD, there are treatment programs that can absolutely improve a child’s symptoms and ability to function like Ascend Autism. If you’d like more information on how we can help you and your family, contact us today at 877.323.8668.


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