What Is High Functioning Autism

What Is High Functioning Autism
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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects social communication and interactions, as well as repetitive patterns of behaviors or interests. High Functioning Autism (HFA) is a subtype of ASD that is typically characterized by average or above-average intelligence, but with persistent difficulties in social communication and interactions, as well as restrictive or repetitive behavior patterns.

Previously, HFA was considered a separate diagnosis from ASD, but since the publication of the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), it is now included as part of the broader ASD diagnosis. This change acknowledges the fact that HFA and other subtypes of ASD represent a diverse spectrum of individuals and experiences, rather than discrete categories.

Understanding what High Functioning Autism is, as well as its strengths and challenges, can help individuals with HFA and their families, as well as educators, clinicians, and other professionals, to provide appropriate support and resources.

What Is Autism?


Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neuro-developmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior.

Characteristics of Autism

  • Difficulty in verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Lack of interest in social interaction
  • Repetitive behavior and routines
  • Difficulty in adapting to changes in routine or environment

Cause of Autism

Though the exact cause of autism is still unknown, researchers believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may contribute to the development of autism. Some studies suggest that abnormalities or changes in brain development during the early stages of life may also play a role.

Diagnosis of Autism

Autism is diagnosed through a comprehensive evaluation, including a developmental screening and various autism-specific assessments. The diagnosis is typically made before the age of three, but signs of autism can be detected in infancy.

Treatment and Support for Autism

While there is no known cure for autism, various interventions, such as behavioral and speech therapy, occupational therapy, and medication, can help manage the symptoms of autism. Family support, education, and specialized education programs are also available for individuals with autism.


Autism is a complex disorder that affects individuals differently. With early intervention and supportive care, individuals with autism can lead fulfilling lives.

Types of Autism

Classic Autism

Classic autism, also known as autistic disorder or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is the most well-known type of autism. It is characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication, as well as repetitive and restricted behaviors. Children with classic autism may have delayed language development, struggle with social cues and gestures, and have difficulty forming relationships with others.

Asperger Syndrome

Asperger syndrome is a type of high-functioning autism that is often referred to as “mild” autism. It is characterized by difficulty with social interaction and repetitive behaviors, but does not involve delays in language and cognitive development like classic autism. People with Asperger syndrome may have strong interests in specific subjects or topics, and may struggle with reading social cues and making eye contact.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is a type of autism that falls under the umbrella term of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People with PDD-NOS may exhibit some, but not all of the characteristics associated with autism. They may have difficulty with social interaction and communication, as well as engaging in repetitive and restricted patterns of behavior.

  • Other types of autism include:
  • Rett Syndrome
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
  • Overall, autism refers to a range of neurodevelopmental disorders that affect how people communicate and interact with others.

High Functioning Autism (HFA)

High Functioning Autism (HFA) is a term that is used to describe individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who have an IQ score within the average or above average range but still display symptoms of autism. HFA is also known as Asperger’s Syndrome.

People with HFA may have difficulty with social interactions, communication, and repetitive behaviors or interests. These symptoms can make it difficult for people with HFA to navigate some everyday situations, such as making friends or holding down a job.

Diagnosis of HFA

Diagnosing HFA can be challenging, as the symptoms can vary widely from person to person. However, some common signs of HFA include:

  • Difficulty with social interactions and communication
  • Repetitive behaviors or interests
  • Sensitivity to sensory changes
  • Difficulty with organization and attention to detail

Treatment for HFA

There is no cure for HFA, but early diagnosis and intervention can help individuals with HFA learn to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Treatment options for HFA may include:

  1. Behavioral therapy
  2. Speech therapy
  3. Occupational therapy
  4. Medications to help manage anxiety or depression

Overall, with the right care and support, individuals with HFA can live fulfilling and productive lives.

Characteristics of High Functioning Autism

Social Interaction

Individuals with High Functioning Autism (HFA) often have difficulties with social interactions. They may have trouble understanding social cues, such as body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. This can lead to difficulty making and maintaining friendships and relationships.

They may also struggle with understanding the perspective of others, which can make it hard to empathize or see situations from another person’s point of view. HFA individuals may have a hard time engaging in small talk or initiating conversations, which can make social situations feel uncomfortable or stressful.

Repetitive Behaviors and Routines

One of the hallmark characteristics of HFA is a difficulty with change and a need for routine. Individuals with HFA may become upset or anxious if there is a change in their routine or environment. They may also engage in repetitive behaviors or rituals, such as lining up toys or repeating words or phrases.

These behaviors may be calming for the individual and can help them feel more in control. However, they can also interfere with daily activities and social interactions.

Sensory Sensitivities

Many individuals with HFA have sensory sensitivities. They may be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to certain sensory stimuli, such as noise, light, touch, or smell. This can make certain environments or situations overwhelming or painful.

They may also engage in repetitive behaviors or stimming, such as hand-flapping or rocking, to regulate their sensory input.



While HFA can present challenges, it is important to recognize the strengths and abilities of individuals with HFA. Many individuals with HFA have exceptional memories, attention to detail, and intelligence in specific subject areas.

They may have a deep passion for certain interests and can excel in fields such as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). It is important to provide opportunities for individuals with HFA to showcase their strengths and passions.

  • Difficulty with social interactions
  • Repetitive behaviors and routines
  • Sensory sensitivities
  • Exceptional memory and intelligence in specific areas of interest

Social Skills in High Functioning Autism

Challenges with Social Interaction

As the term suggests, individuals with high functioning autism have normal to above average intellectual abilities, but they often exhibit difficulties with social interaction. They may have trouble with nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. This may cause them to struggle with interpreting social situations and relationships.

High functioning autistics may also struggle with initiating and maintaining conversations, understanding sarcasm or humor, and interpreting social cues like turn-taking and personal space. This can lead to social isolation and difficulties building relationships.

Strengths in Social Interaction

Despite the challenges they may face, individuals with high functioning autism often have strengths in social interaction as well. They may have a strong sense of honesty and ethics, a unique perspective on life, and a focused interest that can be shared with others.

With the help of therapy and education, they can learn how to recognize and interpret social cues, engage in conversation, and develop and maintain relationships. Some individuals with high functioning autism may also benefit from social skills training and therapy groups.

Tips for Supporting Social Interaction

  • Be patient and understanding
  • Practice clear communication and provide specific feedback
  • Encourage and support their interests and hobbies
  • Provide structured opportunities for social interaction
  • Model social skills and appropriate behavior
  • Encourage participation in social skills training and therapy groups

Communication in High Functioning Autism

Difficulties in Verbal Communication

Individuals with high functioning autism may have difficulties with both expressive and receptive language skills. Expressively, they may struggle with initiating or maintaining conversations, using appropriate volume and tone of voice, and staying on topic. Receptively, they may have trouble understanding jokes, sarcasm, and idioms, and may require more literal and concrete language.

It is important to note that difficulties in verbal communication are not a result of a lack of intelligence, but rather a difference in processing and understanding language.

Use of Alternative Communication Methods

Some individuals with high functioning autism may find it easier to communicate through alternative methods, such as written communication, use of technology, or nonverbal communication. These methods may provide a more comfortable and accessible way to express their thoughts and ideas.

It is important to support and encourage individuals with high functioning autism to use alternative communication methods if it helps them to communicate more effectively and comfortably.

Improving Communication Skills

There are various methods that can be used to improve the communication skills of individuals with high functioning autism. These may include social skills training, speech and language therapy, and coaching in self-advocacy and self-expression.

It is important to individualize interventions and support based on the specific needs and strengths of each individual with high functioning autism. Collaborating with professionals, family members, and individuals with autism themselves can lead to more effective communication skills and a better quality of life.

Sensory Issues in High Functioning Autism

To Start With

Individuals with high functioning autism often have sensory issues that can affect their daily lives. Sensory processing refers to the way the brain receives, interprets, and responds to sensory information from the environment.

Types of Sensory Issues

Some common sensory issues in high functioning autism include:

  • Hypersensitivity: this refers to being overly sensitive to certain sensory inputs, such as loud noises, bright lights, or certain textures.
  • Hyposensitivity: this refers to being less sensitive to certain sensory inputs, such as pain or temperature.
  • Difficulty filtering input: this refers to difficulty in filtering out irrelevant sensory information, leading to distractibility or overstimulation.

Impact on Daily Life

Sensory issues can significantly impact the daily life of individuals with high functioning autism. Certain sensory inputs may trigger anxiety, meltdowns, or physical discomfort. This can affect their ability to participate in social situations, education, and work.

Management Strategies

To manage sensory issues, individuals with high functioning autism may benefit from the following strategies:

  1. Identifying triggers and avoiding them when possible
  2. Using sensory tools, such as noise-cancelling headphones, weighted blankets, or fidget toys
  3. Establishing routines and schedules to provide predictability
  4. Participating in sensory integration therapy, which involves exposure to various sensory inputs in a controlled environment


Sensory issues are a common feature of high functioning autism, which can impact a person’s daily life. Management strategies, such as sensory tools and therapy, can help individuals with high functioning autism cope with their sensory issues and live a more comfortable life.

Diagnosis of High Functioning Autism

Criteria for Diagnosis

To diagnose high functioning autism, a healthcare professional will typically evaluate an individual’s behavior, communication, and social interactions, along with other criteria. One of the key factors that distinguishes high functioning autism from other forms of autism is an absence of significant cognitive or language delays. However, individuals with high functioning autism may still struggle with executive function, sensory processing, and social communication.

Evaluation Process

The evaluation process for high functioning autism typically involves a comprehensive assessment, which can vary depending on the individual’s age and level of functioning. Evaluations may include standardized assessments, observation, parent and teacher interviews, and medical and developmental history. Healthcare professionals may also work with other specialists, such as speech therapists, occupational therapists, or psychologists, to provide a multidisciplinary evaluation.

Challenges in Diagnosis

Diagnosing high functioning autism can be challenging due to the wide variation in individual symptoms and behaviors. Some individuals with high functioning autism may have subtle symptoms that are difficult to identify, while others may have more pronounced symptoms that mimic other disorders. Additionally, high functioning autism is often not diagnosed until later in life, especially in females, who may display different symptoms and may be more adept at masking social deficits.

Overall, early diagnosis and intervention are important for individuals with high functioning autism to receive appropriate support and achieve their full potential. Conducting a thorough evaluation and seeking the assistance of experienced professionals can help ensure accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

Diagnostic Criteria for High Functioning Autism

The DSM-5 Criteria for High Functioning Autism

According to the DSM-5, high functioning autism is included in the umbrella term Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). To receive a diagnosis of high functioning autism, an individual must meet the following criteria:

  • Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts
  • Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities
  • Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period
  • Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning
  • Symptoms are not better explained by intellectual disability or global developmental delay

Assessment Tools for High Functioning Autism

There are various assessment tools used to diagnose high functioning autism, including:

  • The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)
  • The Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised (ADI-R)
  • The Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS)
  • The Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ)

Clinical Evaluation for High Functioning Autism

In addition to the use of assessment tools, a clinical evaluation may be used to diagnose high functioning autism. This may include:

  • A thorough medical and developmental history
  • Observations of the individual in various social situations
  • Interviews with the individual and their family members or caregivers
  • Psychological and cognitive assessments

Diagnosis and Support

Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial for individuals with high functioning autism. Once diagnosed, individuals can benefit from a range of support services, including psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, speech therapy, and social skills training. Education and employment accommodations may also be necessary to help individuals with high functioning autism reach their full potential.

Diagnosing High Functioning Autism in Adults

Why Diagnosing High Functioning Autism in Adults Is Important

While autism is usually diagnosed in childhood, some individuals may not receive a diagnosis until adulthood. This delayed diagnosis can cause difficulties in obtaining the support and accommodations necessary to thrive in academic, social, and professional settings. Adults with undiagnosed autism may struggle with sensory processing, executive functioning, social interactions, and communication skills, causing feelings of isolation, anxiety, and self-doubt.

By identifying high functioning autism in adults, clinicians and individuals can develop a better understanding of an individual’s strengths and limitations and develop personalized interventions and accommodations to improve daily life. Diagnosis can also provide a sense of relief and understanding, allowing individuals to connect with others who share similar experiences and access appropriate support services.

How High Functioning Autism Is Diagnosed in Adults

Diagnosing high functioning autism in adults usually involves a combination of medical history review, self-assessment questionnaires, and diagnostic tests. Clinicians will ask about childhood development, behavior, and cognitive functioning, as well as current symptoms and challenges. Observing sensory processing, social communication, and executive functioning abilities can also be helpful in making a diagnosis.

The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-2) is often used to assess high functioning autism in adults. This standardized test evaluates social communication, play, and imagination, and can provide valuable information about an individual’s strengths and difficulties. Clinicians may also use the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) to gather information about early childhood development and behavior.

Additionally, self-assessment measures such as the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) and the Empathy Quotient (EQ) can provide insight into an individual’s subjective experiences and feelings. Clinicians may also use standardized cognitive and behavioral tests to evaluate executive functioning, processing speed, and working memory.

It’s important to note that diagnosis of high functioning autism in adults can be complicated due to a variety of factors, including masking and camouflaging of symptoms, co-occurring mental health conditions, and individual differences in personality and cognition. A diagnosis should never be assumed without a thorough evaluation by a trained clinician.

Managing High Functioning Autism

1. Establish a Routine

A routine can be a lifeline for individuals with high functioning autism. Establishing a predictable routine can help reduce anxiety and create a sense of structure in their everyday lives. Make sure to include daily activities such as meals, exercise, and medication if necessary. It’s also essential to have a consistent sleep schedule.

  • Stick to a consistent routine
  • Include daily activities
  • Create a sense of structure

2. Seek Professional Help

Professional help can be extremely beneficial for managing high functioning autism. Seek assistance from a therapist or counselor who has experience working with individuals on the autism spectrum. They can provide coping mechanisms and strategies for dealing with anxiety, sensory overload, and social situations. Psychiatrists can also prescribe medication for those who need it.

  • Seek a therapist or counselor
  • Ask for coping mechanisms and strategies
  • Consider medication if necessary

3. Practice Social Skills

Social skills can be a challenge for individuals with high functioning autism. Practicing social skills in a safe and supportive environment can be extremely helpful. Participate in social skills groups or activities that encourage social interaction. Role-playing can also be effective in practicing specific social situations.

  • Participate in social skills groups or activities
  • Role-play specific social situations
  • Practice in a safe and supportive environment

4. Manage Sensory Overload

Individuals with high functioning autism can experience sensory overload, which can be overwhelming. It’s essential to recognize the triggers for sensory overload and learn how to manage them. This can be done through noise-cancelling headphones, sunglasses to reduce glare, or taking break in a quiet space. It’s also important to prioritize self-care and engage in activities that bring comfort.

  • Recognize the triggers for sensory overload
  • Learn how to manage sensory overload
  • Use noise-cancelling headphones and sunglasses
  • Prioritize self-care

5. Educate Family and Friends

It’s important to educate family and friends about high functioning autism. Knowledge and understanding can lead to better support and communication. Share resources and information to help them understand the challenges and strengths of individuals with autism. Encourage them to be patient, supportive, and non-judgmental.

  • Educate family and friends about high functioning autism
  • Share resources and information
  • Encourage patience, support, and non-judgmental behavior

Therapeutic Approaches for High Functioning Autism

1. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

ABA is a common therapeutic approach for children and adults with autism spectrum disorder. This method focuses on breaking down complex skills into smaller, more manageable components and systematically teaching them through repeated practice and reinforcement. ABA is often used to teach communication, social, and self-help skills, as well as to reduce problematic behaviors.

2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of talk therapy that helps individuals with autism better understand and manage their thoughts and emotions. It can be particularly helpful for individuals struggling with anxiety or depression. The therapist works with the individual to identify negative thought patterns and replace them with more positive ones.

3. Occupational Therapy (OT)

OT focuses on improving a person’s ability to perform daily activities and interact with the environment. OT can help individuals with autism learn important life skills such as dressing, eating, and personal hygiene. It can also help with fine motor skills such as writing and using utensils.

4. Speech and Language Therapy

Many individuals with autism struggle with communication. Speech and language therapy can help them improve their ability to express themselves verbally. It can also help them understand and interpret nonverbal cues such as tone of voice and facial expressions.

5. Social Skills Training

Individuals with high functioning autism often have difficulty with social communication, such as understanding social cues and maintaining appropriate social interactions. Social skills training can teach individuals with autism how to make and maintain friendships, understand social cues, and navigate social situations appropriately.

6. Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration therapy focuses on improving the integration of sensory information from the environment. Individuals with autism often struggle with sensory processing, which can make everyday stimuli overwhelming. Sensory integration therapy can help individuals with autism learn to better regulate their sensory responses and tolerate different types of sensory input

  • Overall, there are many therapeutic approaches that can help individuals with high functioning autism lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

Social Support for High Functioning Autism

To Start With

High Functioning Autism (HFA) refers to individuals on the autism spectrum who have good communication and language skills, but may struggle with social interactions and have repetitive behaviors or restricted interests. These individuals may benefit from social support to help them navigate social situations and build meaningful relationships.

Social Skills Training

One form of social support for HFA individuals is social skills training. This involves teaching them appropriate social skills, such as reading subtle social cues, initiating and maintaining conversations, and understanding personal space. Social skills training can help HFA individuals feel more confident and comfortable in social situations.

Peer Support Groups

Peer support groups can also be helpful for HFA individuals. These groups typically consist of individuals with similar experiences who meet regularly to share their challenges and successes. Peer support groups can provide a sense of community, validation, and acceptance. HFA individuals can feel less isolated and more understood when they are part of a peer support group.


Therapy can also be a form of social support for HFA individuals. Therapy can help HFA individuals identify and process their emotions, as well as develop coping strategies for managing anxiety and stress. Therapy can also provide a safe and supportive space for HFA individuals to explore their social difficulties and work on building relationships.


Social support is essential for HFA individuals to build meaningful relationships and navigate social situations. Social skills training, peer support groups, and therapy can all provide valuable forms of support for HFA individuals. By receiving social support, HFA individuals can feel more confident and empowered to lead fulfilling lives.

Questions and Answers:

What are the symptoms of high functioning autism?

Some common symptoms of high functioning autism include difficulty with social interactions, repetitive behaviors or interests, sensory issues, and challenges with communication. People with high functioning autism may also struggle with executive functioning skills such as planning, organization, and time management.

Can high functioning autism be cured?

There is no cure for autism, including high functioning autism. However, early intervention and therapy can help individuals with autism develop coping skills and learn how to better communicate and interact with others.

Are people with high functioning autism able to live independently?

Many people with high functioning autism are able to live independently with some support and assistance. It depends on the individual and their specific needs and abilities. Some may require more structured support while others may be able to live on their own with minimal assistance.