What Is High-Functioning Asperger’s?

Updated December 11, 2018

Reviewer Audrey Kelly, LMFT

There is no such thing as "high-functioning Asperger's syndrome." This would indicate that there is an opposite end of the spectrum where someone with Asperger's was not as high-functioning. The very definition of Asperger's syndrome is that it is a high-functioning form of autism.

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  • Asperger's Vs. High-Functioning Autism

Asperger's syndrome and high-functioning Autism are the same things. Asperger's syndrome is no longer recognized as an official diagnosis, but then, neither is "high-functioning autistic." This is because of Autism being measured on a spectrum (the proper term is "Autism Apectrum Disorder"), with a person's designation depending on whether he or she is closer to the lower or higher end of the spectrum.

Therefore, a person interested in learning more about high-functioning Asperger's symptoms in adults need only look up the symptoms of high-functioning autism to learn more about the condition.

  • What Is High-Functioning Autism?

The term "high-functioning Autism" is not an official medical diagnosis. Instead, it's more of a colloquialism used to refer to someone who has autism but can still carry out life's basic functions, like reading, writing, and speaking. Autism used only to be diagnosed when it was more severe, but as we've come to learn more about the disorder and how it is measured as a spectrum, we've learned to recognize milder forms of autism, like Asperger's syndrome.

Today, though, you won't hear doctors use the term "Asperger's" or even "high-functioning autism." The only people who still use these terms are not in the medical field, and they are referring to a diagnosis that was made before Autism started being recognized as more of a spectrum.

Typically, someone is considered "high-functioning" if his or her IQ is greater than 70. The biggest indicator that a child may be "high-functioning" is that s/he has experienced significant delays in their language skills before the age of 3. This is to say that s/he did not reach the required minimum number of words spoken by that age, which is typically around 200 words. Toddlers at this age should be able to put together sentences of three or four words.

  • Symptoms Of High-Functioning Autism

Because Asperger's syndrome is no longer considered a legitimate diagnosis, there is no "high-functioning Asperger's checklist" you could use to tick off symptoms that you may recognize in yourself or a loved one. Autism is a tricky devil because it is a very individualized disorder. While one person may have difficulty speaking, another may have an intense sensitivity to light and sound.

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However, some symptoms remain accepted as a general list of what to look for in someone who may be on the spectrum. These symptoms include:

  • Shutting down in social situations (not making eye contact, clamming up, etc.)
  • Having a strong preference for routine, and not being able to cope if that routine is disrupted
  • Not being able to hold down a job
  • Not being able to focus while at school

Of course, these symptoms can be indicative of some other things, so it is important to seek a professional evaluation if you believe that you or a loved one may be on the spectrum.

Jobs for Those with Autism

Again, because Asperger's syndrome is no longer recognized as an official condition, you probably won't be able to find "jobs for high-functioning Asperger's people." However, even though high-functioning Autism is not recognized either, you will have better luck looking for jobs based on this designation.

It is understandable why someone would want to make the distinction. You may want to be able to find a job that is more understanding of someone with (capitalize A in Autism) autism. However, so long as you can hold down a job and focus on the tasks at hand, then the fact that you have(capitalize A in Autism) autism should not have any bearing on which jobs you can take.

That being said, if you do have a history of having difficulty finding or holding down a job, then you may want to look for a job that plays to your strengths. Typically, those with Autism should do better in a job that has a well-defined goal, and that focuses more on the task at hand, rather than interacting with people.

Some areas in which those with Autism do particularly well tend to be:

  • Computer science
  • Accounting
  • Engineering
  • Commercial art and drafting (like drawing up blueprints for architects, or graphic design)

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These careers are ideal because there is little interaction with other humans. You can be left to your own devices without relying so much on what other people need from you. On the other hand, those who struggle with social disorders may want to avoid areas like:

  • English
  • Political science
  • Business

Romantic Relationship Advice for Those with Autism

Making friends and romantic partners is hard for all of us, but it's especially difficult for those with Autism. The social barriers that autism presents can make it incredibly hard for someone with the condition to get close to another person, but this is not to say that it can't be done.

Early intervention is key because the earliest a person can be diagnosed as being on the spectrum, the sooner steps can be taken to help him or she improve her social skills and overcome the obstacles that autism can create. Children, for example, can work with teachers, speech pathologists, and therapists to improve their speech and methods of communication. This sets them up for more successful adolescence.

Once they grow into young adults, these individuals can be encouraged to participate in events that will bring them closer to those who share similar interests. For example, he or she may want to attend something as large as a fan convention, or as small as a quilting class. Whatever involves combining social interaction with one of his or her favorite hobbies or passions will set him or her up well for being comfortable enough around people who share similar interests to make friends.

Once the individual becomes an adult, if his or her Autism has not been addressed early on, it can become monumentally more difficult to forge long-lasting relationships. By this point, he or she has probably gotten used to being alone for most of his or her life and is content to do solo activities and generally be alone. They may be okay with the occasional acquaintance, but they will refrain from pursuing anything further than occasional small talk.

On what may be an even sadder note, those who have been diagnosed as being on the spectrum may refrain from pursuing romantic relationships because they don't want to procreate and take the risk of their offspring being genetically predisposed to being on the spectrum. They knew how difficult it was for them growing up, and they don't want to see their child go through something similar.

Autism Treatments

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The good thing about Autism treatments is that you don't have to wait for an official diagnosis before starting treatment. The earlier the intervention when you believe there may be a problem, the better. The type of treatment you seek for yourself, or a loved one depends largely on your specific needs or the needs of your loved one.

Because Autism is a spectrum disorder, there are a wide variety of symptoms, and therefore a wide variety of treatments, which range from medications to therapy. Some of those treatments that focus specifically on changing a child's behavior include:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) - ABA is a form of therapy used to help a child learn positive behaviors and reduce the number of negative behaviors they exhibit.
  • Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-Based Approach (DIR) - This treatment goes by the much-easier-to-remember name "Floortime," and it is exactly what it sounds like - you get down on the floor and play with your child.
  • The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) - This is a treatment that uses symbols to teach a child to communicate and ask questions.
  • Sensory Integration Therapy - This therapy helps children who suffer from sensory overloads, such as being startled by loud noises or certain lights.

Medication is also used as a treatment for conditions related to Autism. For instance, an individual can take medication for conditions like anxiety, depression, and difficulties with concentration. Medication has been found to be particularly effective when it is combined with therapy, rather than being taken without any accompanying treatment.

And, while it may sound rather dull, experts always recommend that an individual with Autism get the right nutrition, exercise and amount of sleep, as these things will contribute to an overall improvement in mood, concentration, and the ability and desire to cooperate and learn new things.

Interested in learning more about autism spectrum disorder? Reach out to one of our BetterHelp counselors for more information.





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