What Is High-Functioning Autism?

There’s a very good reason why the umbrella term is Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism is a condition that appears on a spectrum. Therefore, while “high-functioning autism” is not an official diagnosis, it is a helpful way to differentiate between points on that spectrum. In turn, this ability is a major part of getting people the support they need.

You see, someone with high-functioning autism may be casually identified as awkward, shy, or perhaps eccentric. Identifying that they are on the autism spectrum shifts the conversation. They are now able to get treatment and guidance that empowers them to live a more enriching life.

5 Signs of High-Functioning Autism

1. Fixation

This is one of the better-known signs. Someone with high-functioning autism may, for example:

  • Dedicate themselves to learning about a particular topic
  • Listen to the same music over and over
  • Focus on the same subjects when having conversations

These fixations have the potential to be a positive, negative, or relatively benign presence in their life. Hence, working with a therapist can be a useful way to recognize how they affect you.

2. Routines, Habits, and a Dislike of Change

A fixation-oriented personality can be very ritualistic. They develop a routine and will not change it unless forced. Anything that throws off their rhythms can be a major source of stress, e.g.

  • A child may become disconcerted if school is unexpectedly canceled
  • An adult may only wear one kind of shirt or pants
  • Habits like brushing one’s teeth or tying one’s shoes must be performed in a specific way 

It’s not that a person with high-functioning autism is incapable of change but they will go to extremes to avoid it. Their reaction to change can also be quite volatile. This reaction highlights another common symptom: emotional sensitivity and dis-regulation.

3. Social Challenges

Awkward social interactions are frequently the first clue that someone is neuro-divergent. In young children, it might manifest in an unwillingness to share toys or play with others. Later, in school or at work, you might have a very small social circle and eschew working in a group. This symptom can develop into an extreme focus on one’s self. Rather than being shrugged off as “quirkiness,” such behavior can be addressed and managed through counseling.

4. Sensory Issues

All across the autistic spectrum, this is common. Individuals struggle with certain smells, sounds, tastes, and textures. As a result, they can experience sensory challenges in everyday actions and settings like:

  • Food that is too crunchy, too mushy, too spicy, etc.
  • Noisy and crowded public places
  • Bright lights and flashing lights
  • Situations that involve smoke or strong smells
  • Clothes that feel tight or itchy

Everyone has their preferences when it comes to sensory input. For an individual with high-functioning autism, such a situation can be the cause of severe distress and discomfort.

5. Toe Walking

Unusual movement patterns are not unusual for someone with high-functioning autism. Toe walking is a particularly common and obvious example. They may choose this gait to avoid the sensation of their foot touching the ground or floor. But left unaddressed, this pattern can cause a wide array of other physical concerns from muscular problems to skin issues.

How to Learn More

There is no clear-cut cause for high-functioning autism and no specific test you can take to find it. What’s needed is an assessment with an experienced practitioner. If any of the above symptoms rang a bell for you, it could be wise to find out more. As mentioned above, what is dismissed as quirkiness may actually be a disorder that can be managed.

People can live full and fulfilling lives with high-functioning autism. Working with a therapist is a giant first step in that direction. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us to learn more about Therapy for Autistic Adults.

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