High functioning autism is an informal term used to describe people with autism who have relatively mild symptoms. People with high functioning autism are often able to live independently and hold down jobs, but they may still experience difficulties in social interactions and communication.
There is no official medical diagnosis of high functioning autism. The term is often used to describe people who meet the criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but who do not meet the criteria for lower functioning ASD levels.
Symptoms of high functioning autism can vary widely from person to person. Some common symptoms include:
- Difficulty reading social interaction cues
- Challenges with reciprocal interpersonal conversation
- Repetitive behaviors
- Rigid thinking
- Sensory sensitivities
- Difficulty establishing emotional intimacy
I have worked with many adults who have been diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum and high functioning. I have also worked with people who have not been officially diagnosed but think they might be on the spectrum.
Often, I get calls from a spouse or parent who think their child or spouse might be on the spectrum. There is behavior that seems unusual or unhealthy and they are searching for understanding and answers.
I don’t have the training or expertise to give an official diagnosis. That needs to be done by a specialist, usually a psychologist. What I believe I can do is identify traits that are consistent with that diagnosis, based on my experience.
This can give comfort that there is an explanation that takes away the discomfort of uncertainty. Yet, even if I do that, the challenges remain.
In my experience, high functioning autism shows itself differently in every person. No two people are alike. You can have 20 people with the same diagnosis and all 20 will have different strengths and challenges.
It’s important to have realistic expectations. What often happens is that frustration builds when behavior change is attempted and doesn’t happen.
In my opinion, the label we try to put on it is not helpful. What is helpful is exploring and understanding each person’s individual strengths and challenges.
Ultimately, what matters most and what is most helpful is accepting yourself or someone else for who you are or for who they are. That means recognizing your humanity and that of the other person.
We all have parts of us that sometimes get in our way and prevent us from living a happy, healthy life. These parts make us human and remind us that we must have patience and show compassion for ourselves and others.
We all have some common needs such as safety, trust, and connection. And we all have unique needs that make us feel loved, cared for, and accepted. What are the unique needs that you have? Or those of your loved one? If you don’t know, it’s important that you ask yourself or your loved one. Doing your best to meet those needs is what will give you the best result.
So, you or your loved one may or may not be on the autism spectrum. And you or your loved one may or may not know this. If you are curious, then consult a professional to learn more. But don’t get hung up on the diagnosis or the label.