Table of contents
What is High Functioning Autism?
High functioning autism has been used since 2013 to replace the previous diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. Asperger Syndrome was once a separate diagnosis from autism because, although there are many characteristics that fit the criteria for autism, Asperger Syndrome seemed to stand alone because of the individual abilities and the level of independence that children and adults with this form of autism are able to maintain throughout their school years and into adulthood.
Children with high functioning autism tend to have much higher skills that do not hinder a person’s ability in academics (reading, writing, math computation, or concepts) and ultimately these children grow up to lead independent lives. Not only do these people grow up to lead independent lives, but very often these children with high functioning autism grow up to follow creative and successful career paths of their choice.
What Does High Functioning Autism Look Like?
You might be thinking, “so…. If these people are doing so well, what’s the problem with high functioning autism? Why put a label on it at all?”.
There are very good reasons for including high functioning autism within the framework of autism spectrum disorders. Social skills, rigid inflexibility in interests and activities, and communication are the most prevalent problems that occur with high functioning autism. This deficit in social skills and communication can greatly affect a person’s ability to maintain romantic ties, friendships, and peer relationships.
What do some of these characteristics look like in a person with high functioning autism? Here are a few examples:
A typically developing child will often approach a new set of friends with a greeting and try to join in and play with them. A child with high-functioning autism may experience certain developmental delays and may avoid eye contact and play alone by choice. In addition to that, the child with high functioning autism may be perfectly content to play alone.
Typically developing children grow increasingly aware of their words and manners in their exchanges with adults and other children. They say please and thank you, and they are aware of when they make a mistake and say something inappropriate. Children with high functioning autism can often fail to notice that they are saying something inappropriate or hurtful. They seem to have “no filter” when they express themselves and they don’t spare anyone’s feelings when they are explaining themselves.
These are skills that can be learned through social skills training. Children with high functioning autism need to first understand that they are crossing a social boundary and then they need to be equipped with the tools to socialize appropriately in various settings.
Amber’s son Derek was not a typical five-year-old. She wasn’t aware of his high-functioning autism before he started elementary school. The only thing she was aware of was that she could not find anything that he was interested in or willing to try outside of his interest in video games and playing music on his tablet.
All of Amber’s attempts to get Derek involved in sports, community events like carnivals or church picnics, trips to local museums, extracurricular activities like karate or music were all met with tears, tantrums, or just a completely non-compliant response (running from the group, sitting and refusing to get up, or just not verbally responding).
Amber would learn of Derek’s high functioning autism during his early years in elementary school after speaking with teachers who observed his behaviors and recommended a consultation with her pediatrician about getting Derek assessed.
High functioning autism can be difficult to identify because it is so borderline typical/atypical. What that means is that a child can be typical in every sense: academic, affectionate, talkative, and active. Yet, there are some areas that are almost impossible to navigate like: encouraging play with another child that visits your home, getting involved in sports like little league, expanding interests beyond the tablet or computer, or going new places without major preparation, and cutting the adventure short when the child goes on strike because he/she wants to go home.
Very often a parent will lament and say something like, “He/She’s so smart. I don’t understand why he/she does these things.”
Here are some things that we know to be true with high functioning autism:
- Children with autism are comforted by repetition and predictable routines. Once a child with high functioning autism finds something that he/she enjoys, it is hard to pull him/her away from it and encourage the child to try something new.
- Children with high functioning autism may experience high levels of anxiety when they do not have access to their daily routines and environments.
- Children with high functioning autism only know what they feel and have extremely limited ability to step outside of their own feelings to consider how another person might feel or respond to their unfiltered words, self-driven actions, inflexibility, or refusals to engage or participate in family events or activities.
All of these behaviors (and a few more) make it difficult for families to enjoy family outings and activities together without a struggle to include the child with high functioning autism. It takes careful planning and brief introductions to new activities to try to include a child with high functioning autism in family activities.
Communicating with a person who has high functioning autism is a little like “walking on eggshells”. Some days are good and some days are bad- and the bad days can sometimes be really bad.
High functioning autism usually accompanies analytical, critical (sometimes hypercritical), inflexible “black and white with no grey” thinking. Black and white with no grey refers to the extremist type of thinking where a topic is either one way or another with no middle ground. For example, one verbal altercation with another person can catalog that person as “bad” forever in the mind of a person with high functioning autism. Why? Because in their minds (some- not all)- people are either good or bad and nothing in between. There are no variables such as “maybe they are having a bad day”, or “maybe I said something wrong and made them mad”. Once the mind has been made up and the label has been fixed, it is very difficult to persuade a person with high functioning autism to consider that they might need to consider their words or their actions in their interactions with others.
Discussing Autism with Your Child
So, how should a parent approach the delicate subject of autism with their own child? The answer will vary from family to family. In general, this discussion is more of an ongoing discussion rather than a one-time sit-down.
At some point, a parent will need to define autism to their child. This is much easier with a child who has high functioning autism than it is with a child who has moderate to severe autism. Here are some tips for discussing the stigma of autism and the characteristics of autism that interfere with daily life:
Tell your child what he/she is capable of because of his/her autism: perhaps it includes things like a higher focus on interests, depth of knowledge in his/her areas of interest, and creativity.
Those with autism have a different type of intelligence and sometimes it might require being patient while learning something new.
Especially those that cause a disruption in their relationships and daily tasks. For example, if a child with high functioning autism feels frustrated while trying to accomplish a task, remind them that they can say, “I am frustrated with this and I need a break”.
If you arrive at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and your child walks in and fails to greet them, this is an opportunity to teach the child about the importance of using their manners and being respectful of others. If your child labels another child as good or bad, this is an opportunity to sit down and discuss what good and bad is and teach them that there is all of the in-between good and bad to consider when we communicate and relate to others.
Tell them that they can always come to you and express these feelings. If they choose to withdraw and isolate themselves for short periods of time during overwhelming situations (crowded events, noisy environments, etc), tell them that this is okay but that they will have to work on rejoining the rest of the group after a break.
The goal is to encourage and promote appropriate social behaviors while recognizing The goal is to encourage and promote appropriate social behaviors while recognizing your child’s differences and allowing him/her to be him/herself. This can be a tricky thing to balance and it will require making your child aware of his/her own deficits while boosting all of his/her positive traits.
Circle Care Services in New Jersey teaches social skills to children with high functioning autism and provides parent training and support to the parents of children with high functioning autism.
If your child with high functioning autism struggles with communication, social skills, functional skills, or behavioral skills – Circle Care Services is here for you.
Call us now!