What is high-functioning autism? It’s not an official diagnosis, but rather a term used to describe someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who can communicate, read, and interact with little to no assistance. Those with high-functioning autism can generally go through life without much help and often fare better than individuals at the other end of the spectrum. In many cases, their condition is unnoticeable though they still often enroll in autism spectrum disorder treatment programs.
For a long time, doctors only diagnosed patients with autism if they showed severe symptoms such as poor social skills, strong resistance to environmental or routine changes, constant word repetition, and bizarre eating and sleeping habits. However, in the 1990s, medical professionals began recognizing milder forms of autism.
High-Functioning Autism vs. Low-Functioning Autism
So, what is high-functioning autism, and how does it differ from other forms of autism?
The latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) categorizes ASD into three sensitivity levels:
Level 1. This is the lowest level of ASD and generally encompasses what people call high-functioning autism. Those at this level have minor symptoms that don’t impede school, work, friendships, or other daily activities.
Level 2. Those in Level 2 struggle more with social cues and interactions when compared to Level 1. They might seek out care to help with socialization.
Level 3. People in Level 3 require the highest amount of attention and care. They might need to enroll in a targeted intervention for autism treatment or intensive therapy. In some cases, Level 3 patients will need the assistance of a full-time aide.
There’s no universal test for determining someone’s ASD level. Doctors spend a lot of time with patients to understand verbal, nonverbal, and social capabilities.
Medical professionals can diagnose ASD as early as 18 months. Delaying a diagnosis can have severe ramifications for a child’s development and upbringing. The sooner they receive treatment, the better. ASD treatment helps a child learn and adapt to the world and cope with their disorder.
Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Individuals with high functioning autism often show symptoms such as difficulty with communication and social interaction. They might have trouble reading social cues and interpreting gestures. Autistic children might not make eye contact, speak in monotonous tones, and not adequately express their emotions.
Some might be obsessed with sticking to a particular routine or habit. Many individuals perform perfectly well in school and work. Others might quickly get stressed or overwhelmed and be unable to hold down a job.
Other people may also have extreme reactions to particular physical sensations. Specific tastes, sounds, smells, or feelings might be extremely repulsive even if others aren’t bothered.
High-Functioning Autism vs. Asperger’s Syndrome
What is high-functioning autism, and what is Asperger’s syndrome? How can you tell the two conditions apart?
High-functioning autism is somewhat similar to Asperger’s syndrome. Both conditions cause a delay in speech and language skills.
However, those with high-functioning autism usually display less verbal reasoning ability, defined motor skills, empathy, and ability to function independently when compared to Asperger’s patients. Plus, many individuals have superior visual and spatial skills and curiosity for different things than those with Asperger’s syndrome.
In 2013, the DSM-5 removed Asperger’s Disorder and Autism Disorder and put them under the umbrella diagnosis of ASD.
Now that you know the answer to “What is high-functioning autism?” the next question is, “What can I do to treat it?” Getting the proper treatment, like an early intervention program for autism, can help a high-functioning autist better manage their condition and navigate their environments. If you think your child might have autism, please contact a specialist today.