10 Symptoms of High-Functioning Autism

High Functioning Autism Symptoms

High Functioning Autism
  • Emotional Sensitivity
  • Fixation on Particular Subjects or Ideas
  • Linguistic Oddities
  • Social Difficulties
  • Problems Processing Physical Sensations
  • Devotion to Routines
  • Development of Repetitive or Restrictive Habits
  • Dislike of Change
  • Focus on Self
  • Unusual Movement Patterns
High Functioning Autism Symptoms

What is High Functioning Autism?

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association published the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).  This edition of the DSM had some important changes to the way autism is diagnosed.  Previously, diagnoses like Asperger’s Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder were used to describe individuals at the extreme ends of the autism spectrum.  High-functioning autism and Asperger’s are not an official medical diagnosis, but rather unofficial terms used to describe individuals who have mild symptoms of autism.  Parents and providers in the field may still refer to these terms to indicate a level of support or degree of disability.

With the DSM-5, those diagnoses all fall under “Autism Spectrum Disorders.”  Individuals with an autism spectrum disorder now include a level of severity in their diagnosis.  What would have been known as high functioning autism or Asperger’s is now considered ASD Level 1.

Regardless of the terms used, early identification of autism spectrum disorders is crucial.  Diagnosis rates for autism continue to rise, especially as parents and professionals become more familiar with the symptoms of Level 1 ASD or high functioning autism.  Tools like the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) help psychologists and other therapists make an official diagnosis.

Many patients are getting the assistance they need to live full, productive lives because their unusual behaviors are no longer seen as simple social awkwardness or eccentricity. As more caring medical and mental health professionals learn to recognize the most common signs of high functioning autism, the number of interventions available to people with autism will rise.

See Also: What are the 10 Most Common Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Emotional Sensitivity

Emotional Sensitivity is common in someone with autism

Although often overlooked, sensitivity to emotions is one of the most common symptoms of high functioning autism. These individuals can function in day-to-day life but struggle to control their emotions the same way that neurotypical, or non-autistic people, are able to do. For example, a frustrating morning experience like running out of milk or being cut off while driving can cause irritability and difficulty concentrating for the rest of the day. People with autism spectrum disorder may also have unusually intense emotional reactions compared to the rest of the population.

Fixation on Particular Subjects or Ideas

Continually discussing the same topics in conversation, obsessively playing the same song repeatedly, or reading every article written about a certain topic are signs of high-functioning autism in adults and adolescents. These interests can be negative if they take over the individual’s life or interfere with their relationships with others.

Of course, these obsessive tendencies can also be helpful; Dan Aykroyd, writer and star in the hit film Ghostbusters, was inspired by his focus on ghosts and the paranormal. Many other high-functioning autistic individuals have used their focus on mathematics, biology, or writing to inspire successful careers.

Linguistic Oddities

Children on the low-functioning end of the autism spectrum usually struggle with:

  • learning to speak
  • building vocabulary
  • holding conversations with others

Individuals with signs of high-functioning autism may start talking much earlier than normal and often display an impressive vocabulary. They may find conversations with others boring or difficult to follow and may avoid speaking with their peers. An autistic person may simply seem eccentric during conversations as their diverse vocabularies, frequent interruptions or focus on particular topics seem like oddities rather than neurological symptoms.

Social Difficulties

Social Difficulties is common with someone with autism

Parents and teachers may notice that young autistics have problems interacting with their peers. These high-functioning autism symptoms in children and teenagers can include:

  • a limited social circle
  • problems sharing toys or materials
  • difficulty completing group work

Sometimes youth are considered shy, quirky or socially awkward when they are truly dealing with autism spectrum disorder.  These kids need counseling services to help them learn social rules, as the problems with interacting with others usually stem from a lack of understanding appropriate behavior with peers. They have a difficult time recognizing social cues and body language.  Early intervention from mental health professionals can help autistic youth learn the best ways to interact with their classmates and potential friends.

Problems Processing Physical Sensations

Many individuals with autism have sensory difficulties. They may have an intolerance to specific:

  • noises
  • tastes
  • smells
  • feelings

Noisy public places can lead to emotional distress, as can uncomfortable clothing or unwanted touches. These issues can be disruptive and stressful, but according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, autism symptoms can improve over time as children with mild autism learn to regulate their own behavior through work with professionals.

Many individuals on the autism spectrum can benefit from occupational therapy to manage sensory issues.  An occupational therapist can create goals and strategies for the individual to work on.  They might meet with the individual one day a week or a couple days, depending on the person’s needs.

Devotion to Routines

daily routine is a common characteristic of someone with autism

People with high-functioning autism are typically devoted to routines. They may stick with routines developed for them by others, such as reading for exactly 15 minutes before going to bed or brushing their teeth exactly five minutes after eating a meal. Any sort of deviation from the routine could cause frustration.  Examples include:

  • A parent needing to help a sick sibling at bedtime instead of reading a bedtime story
  • The school bus running late and missing first period
  • A snowstorm causing school to be cancelled

The person with high-functioning autism may devote an exorbitant amount of time to performing their routines to the detriment of:

  • self-care
  • sleep
  • exercise
  • homework
  • learning

Development of Repetitive or Restrictive Habits

Repetitive habits may also be symptoms of high-functioning autism in adults.  Those habits could interfere with the person’s ability to do what they need to do or what others want them to do. One type of repetitive habit might be related to movement. The individual might have to tie and untie their shoes multiple times before they are satisfied and are able to start walking or leave the house.

Some high functioning autistic people also develop restrictive habits that interfere with socially accepted living. For example, an individual might refuse to wear any other kind of shirt than a tee shirt. This could impact their health and well-being if they live in a place with cold weather.

Dislike of Change

One of the hallmark high functioning autism symptoms is a strong dislike of change. An individual might eat the same meal every day for breakfast, and they may eat it in the same quantity, on the same dish, and in the same place. Any disruption or change in the routine could cause an outburst in the individual. For example, if the usual brand of peanut butter has run out, and a different brand has been purchased instead, the person with high-functioning autism may have an outburst of anger or frustration. If someone has used their preferred dish, they may have a similar outpouring of volatility.

Focus on Self

People with high-functioning autism may have trouble developing deep social relationships with others. Part of this issue also includes an inordinate focus on self. A person with high-functioning autism may spend an excessive amount of time talking about themselves, not allowing another person to share a complete thought or response. This makes carrying on a conversation difficult. In the family or household setting, a person with high-functioning autism may only think of themselves when doing activities. For example, they might pour themselves a drink without asking if anyone else would also like a drink. They might take more than what others perceive as a fair share of a snack or treat, genuinely not thinking that others might also want some of the items.

Unusual Movement Patterns

Unusual Movement Patterns

A person with high-functioning autism may have unusual movement patterns. Toe walking is a common movement disorder. The person may walk on their toes or the ball and the toes of the feet without putting much bodyweight on the other parts of the foot. This can result in foot pain in the ball, hammertoe, or bunion from the excessive pressure. The shoes and socks may wear out in the forefoot area much faster than in the heel area. People who walk on their toes may experience more foot injuries, such as blisters, calluses, and corns on their footpads and toes. Toe walking is more common in young children and people with musculoskeletal, explains the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Related Resource: Top 20 Best Applied Behavior Analysis Programs

Not all individuals with autism exhibit physical tics or an inability to maintain social ties. High functioning autistic individuals usually present symptoms not originally associated with autism. Helping professionals must continue to push for recognition of the range of behaviors associated with the autism spectrum. Familiarity with these ten symptoms of high-functioning autism helps providers, parents, teachers and others coordinate the early treatment of a person with this condition.  Resources like Autism Speaks can also provide parents and professionals with support and helpful ideas.