High-functioning Autism: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

High-functioning Autism: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Written by

Ann Sara Kottoor, M.Sc.Psychology

Top Child Development Centre in Kochi - Minna Mathew

Clinically reviewed By

Minna Mathew, Clinical Psychologist
MPhil Clinical Psychology

Autism is an umbrella term used to describe people who have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships with other people. People with high-functioning autism often exhibit a few traits that others on the autistic spectrum might not. More often, they are highly intelligent and have remarkable language skills. People on the other end of the spectrum may be nonverbal, making it challenging to determine their learning or intellectual capacity.

What are the signs of high-functioning autism? How is it diagnosed and managed? This blog attempts to answer these questions.

What Is High-Functioning Autism?

High-functioning autism is a term that was originally coined in the 1980s to refer to individuals with an IQ above 70 and no intellectual disability. However, it is not an established medical diagnosis.

What Does It Mean?

The term high-functioning autism refers to autistic people who can function with minimal support. They may be able to read, write, handle basic tasks, or live independently. Their relationships, career, or education are not significantly affected, although they have autism.

This is an informal one that some people apply when they discuss about people with autism spectrum disorder

What Does High-Functioning Autism Look Like?

Although “high-functioning” might appear in autistic people in a variety of ways, there are a few general signs to watch out for, some of which are detailed below:

Social Challenges:

Similar to others in the spectrum, individuals with high-functioning autism also have difficulty interacting with others. They could have a hard time making friends because they don’t naturally interpret social cues.

Emotional Sensitivity:

Although they can carry on with daily activities, high-functioning autistic people sometimes are exceptionally sensitive. Many high-functioning autistic persons may experience extreme emotional reactions and have mood or attention issues for the rest of the day if they have a frustrating or unpleasant ordinary life experience, such as spilling milk, cutting their finger, or not getting their way.

Physical Sensation Sensitivity:

Another indication of high-functioning autism is difficulty integrating physical sensations. They might find uncomfortable attire, loud public spaces, physical contact with other people, or unpleasant tastes/odors unbearable.

Focus on routines, repetitions, and restrictive habits:

Most high-functioning people with ASD will find comfort in routine and order. For instance, wearing the same clothes daily, sleeping for exactly 7 hours at night, and consuming the very same dish every day.

What Are The Symptoms of High-Functioning Autism?

  • Fixation on a particular subject or object
  • High levels of emotional sensitivity
  • Social problems
  • Language peculiarities
  • Sensory difficulties
  • Interest in routine

Is High-Functioning Autism Different From Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s is also a form of autism spectrum disorder. Language skill acquisition does not appear to be slowed in Asperger’s , in contrast to high-functioning autism. In fact, once the former becomes interested in a certain field, their language develops to a very high level. For instance, a kid who develops a complete fascination for dinosaurs becomes familiar with every term referring to dinosaurs including their names. This may go beyond what is typical for a child of that age in terms of language and vocabulary. Also, kids with Asperger’s have far more pronounced motor skill deficits and fixated interests.

High-Functioning Autism Diagnosis

Your Autism related doctor could suggest a specialist if you have concerns about your child’s development, particularly if a sibling or other close relative has ASD. To ascertain whether there is a physical cause for the observed behaviors, the specialist will do tests such as hearing tests to evaluate for deafness or difficulty hearing.

A clinical psychologist would observe the child and do screening tests such as the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT), Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI), Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Gilliam Autism Rating Scale, Screening Tool for Autism in Toddlers and Young Children (STAT), Indian Scale for Assessment of Autism. ISAA, etc. These tests, together with an IQ test, can help determine if the child has high-functioning autism. The parents are also interviewed to elicit information about the child’s pattern of communication, and behavior and how these have changed over time.

Treatment and Management

Occupational Therapy: An occupational therapist can help to develop skills like handwriting, fine motor skills, and activities of daily living.

Speech TherapyA speech therapist can help learn spoken language and functional communication skills.

ABA therapy or Applied Behavior Analysis focuses on techniques that help guide learning and bring out meaningful, positive changes in behavior.

Medications can be taken upon prescription by a psychiatrist, to manage certain symptoms like incessant crying/giggling or for seizure.

Group therapy and social skill classes offer an opportunity to practice social skills on a regular basis.

Floortime therapy derives from the idea that parents or therapists can help children by meeting them at their level to expand their circles of communication.

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) Therapy is a family-based behavioral treatment designed to address core symptoms of autism by appreciating all perspectives, coping with change, and integrating information from multiple sources such as light and sound.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is used with nonverbal autistic children to help them communicate without words.


High-functioning autism is used to refer to those who have typical social and interaction difficulties associated with ASD, but have an IQ of 70 or above. Being classified as high-functioning does not guarantee that the person would experience little or no problems. However, those with high-functioning autism are likely to make significant long-term progress with the treatments mentioned above.

We believe that through this blog, we could enlighten you about high-functioning autism. Post a comment to share your thoughts with our team; we look forward to hearing from you. Also, please feel free to ask any questions you may have about autism, in the space provided below.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is now more widely recognized among children than before. After identifying the traits and receiving a diagnosis, treatment is available for you.


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