Exploring High Functioning Autism Behaviors

Discover insights into high functioning autism behaviors, coping strategies, and ways to overcome stigma.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
April 3, 2024

Exploring High Functioning Autism Behaviors

Understanding High-Functioning Autism

High-functioning autism is a term that helps us understand and navigate a specific group within the autism spectrum. Let's delve into its definition, characteristics, and how it presents differently in children and adults.

Definition and Characteristics

High-functioning autism, though not an official medical diagnosis, refers to a pattern of disordered traits and behaviors consistent with autism. Individuals with these traits and behaviors can function relatively well in society. They often develop coping mechanisms and compensatory strategies that can mask the signs of autism, making it challenging to determine autism severity.

Characteristic high-functioning autism behaviors include difficulties with social interaction, such as interpreting other people's behavior and knowing how to behave around others. These individuals may find it challenging to navigate social cues, maintain eye contact, and interpret jokes or sarcasm [2].

Differences in Children and Adults

The behaviors associated with high-functioning autism can manifest differently in children and adults.

Children with high-functioning autism may exhibit delayed speech, fear of social situations, and trouble making friends. They may be sensitive to different textures of food and show resistance to touch. Difficulty with fine motor activities and an excellent memory are among other common characteristics. Children might also feel uncomfortable with sarcasm, joking, and small talk.

Common Behaviors in Children
Delayed Speech
Fear of Social Situations
Trouble Making Friends
Sensitivity to Food Textures
Resistance to Touch
Difficulty with Fine Motor Activities
Excellent Memory
Discomfort with Sarcasm and Joking

On the other hand, adults with high-functioning autism may have difficulty maintaining eye contact and assessing social cues. They may experience anxiety in social settings and have trouble understanding jokes and sarcasm. Adults can also get easily overwhelmed by sensory input, have trouble making decisions, and struggle with transitions [1].

Common Behaviors in Adults
Difficulty Maintaining Eye Contact
Trouble Assessing Social Cues
Anxiety in Social Settings
Difficulty Understanding Jokes and Sarcasm
Easily Overwhelmed by Sensory Input
Trouble Making Decisions
Difficulty with Transitions

Understanding these differences aids in better supporting individuals with high-functioning autism, be it in a learning environment, workplace, or social settings. It equips us with the knowledge to recognize and appreciate the unique strengths and challenges associated with high-functioning autism behaviors.

Social Interaction Challenges

One of the key characteristics of high functioning autism behaviors includes challenges in social interaction. This often manifests as difficulties interpreting other people's behavior, knowing how to behave around others, and understanding social cues. This section will explore such challenges and the strategies to overcome them.

Developing Social Skills

People with high-functioning autism often struggle with various aspects of social interaction and communication. This includes challenges with making friends, maintaining eye contact during conversations, engaging in small talk, and understanding social cues. Furthermore, individuals with high-functioning autism may also experience stress in social situations and exhibit repetitive and restrictive habits.

The development of social skills typically occurs overtime. However, for individuals on the autism spectrum, the development of these skills may occur differently. They may require additional support and targeted interventions to effectively navigate social situations.

It's also worth noting that individuals with high-functioning autism can fall anywhere on the autism spectrum. This means that they may range from being severely disabled to exhibiting only mild symptoms, with varying IQ levels as well.

Strategies for Improvement

While social interaction can be challenging for individuals with high-functioning autism, there are various strategies that can help improve their social skills.

  1. Social Skills Training: This involves teaching individuals on the autism spectrum about social norms, behaviors, and interpersonal skills. This could include lessons on maintaining eye contact, interpreting facial expressions and body language, and understanding social cues.
  2. Role-Playing: This strategy involves practicing social scenarios and providing feedback. The aim is to help individuals with autism understand and navigate different social situations.
  3. Therapy: Various forms of therapy, such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy, can also be beneficial. These therapies help individuals with autism improve their communication skills and manage their behaviors.
  4. Support Groups: Joining support groups can help individuals with autism connect with others who are facing similar challenges. This can provide them with a safe and supportive environment to share their experiences and learn from others.
  5. Education and Awareness: Educating individuals with autism, their families, and the wider community about autism can also be beneficial. This can help reduce stigma and misunderstanding.

Challenges with social interaction can lead to anxiety or feelings of isolation for individuals on the autism spectrum [2]. Therefore, implementing these strategies can help improve their social skills and enhance their quality of life. It's important to remember that each individual is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, strategies should be tailored to meet the specific needs and strengths of each individual.

Coping Mechanisms and Strategies

Individuals with high-functioning autism often develop coping mechanisms and compensatory strategies that can mask the signs of autism, making it challenging to determine autism severity [1]. There are several approaches in practice to manage high functioning autism behaviors, including behavioral and developmental strategies.

Behavioral Approaches

Behavioral approaches, particularly Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), are widely accepted among educators and healthcare professionals. There is substantial evidence supporting the efficacy of ABA in treating symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ABA focuses on encouraging desired behaviors and discouraging undesired behaviors to improve various skills.

The goal of ABA is to promote functional behaviors and reduce those that may cause harm or interfere with learning. ABA techniques can be used in a variety of settings, including the home, school, and community, and are customized to meet the individual needs of each person with ASD.

Progress in ABA is tracked and measured to ensure that the strategies are effective and to make necessary adjustments. It's important to work with a trained ABA therapist who can develop a customized program based on the person's interests, skills, and needs.

Developmental Approaches

In addition to behavioral strategies, developmental approaches also play a vital role in managing high functioning autism behaviors. These approaches include Speech and Language Therapy and Occupational Therapy, both aiming to improve the quality of life and independence of individuals with ASD.

Speech and Language Therapy focuses on improving speech, language understanding, and usage. It can be particularly beneficial for individuals with ASD who have difficulties with verbal communication.

Occupational Therapy, on the other hand, teaches skills for independent living. These include daily activities such as dressing, eating, and bathing, as well as interacting with others.

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is another developmental approach based on ABA principles. It is used with children aged 12-48 months to enhance language, social, and learning skills through play, social exchanges, and shared attention in natural settings.

Social-relational approaches also form part of the developmental strategies. These focus on improving social skills and building emotional bonds. Some approaches involve parents or peer mentors to enhance social interactions.

By understanding and implementing these strategies, individuals with high-functioning autism can effectively manage their behaviors and lead fulfilling lives. It's crucial to tailor these approaches to suit the unique needs and circumstances of each individual.

Autism in the Workplace

Navigating the world of work can present unique challenges for individuals with high functioning autism behaviors. From job interviews to daily workplace communication, it's important for individuals, employers, and colleagues to understand and accommodate these challenges.

Navigating Job Interviews

Job interviews can be particularly challenging for adults with high-functioning autism. The process often involves complex social and communication skills, which can be difficult for individuals with autism to navigate. In 2021, unemployment rates for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) were reported to be very high, with 85% of adults with the condition being unemployed.

Despite these challenges, many people with high-functioning autism can thrive in their careers. Some individuals excel in more technical careers that require fewer conversations and interviews. When searching for employment, adults with autism should consider their personal strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. It's vital to find a job that aligns with their skills and preferences, and that offers a comfortable work environment.

Strategies for Success at Work

Once in the workplace, adults on the autism spectrum may face challenges in maintaining employment due to difficulties with social skills and sensory overstimulation. They may also experience discrimination and misunderstanding from colleagues and employers [5].

To overcome these challenges, it's important for individuals with autism to find employers who are open to neurodiversity and willing to accommodate their needs. Additionally, identifying and practicing communication skills, such as active listening and understanding nonverbal cues, can be beneficial. Relying on communication methods that reduce misunderstandings, such as email or one-on-one meetings, can also be helpful in the workplace [5].

In conclusion, while individuals with high-functioning autism may face unique challenges in the workplace, with understanding and accommodations from employers and colleagues, they can find and maintain rewarding employment. By focusing on their strengths and personal preferences, as well as practicing essential communication and social skills, individuals with high-functioning autism can navigate the workplace successfully.

Improving Academic Performance

When dealing with high functioning autism behaviors, a significant area of focus is academic performance. Youth with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders (ASD) without intellectual disability frequently experience academic problems, which can be partially attributed to executive functioning (EF) deficits. These deficits can make navigating the academic world more challenging, but with understanding and the implementation of effective interventions, academic performance can be improved.

Understanding Executive Functioning Deficits

Executive functioning refers to mental skills that are critical for managing daily life. This includes skills such as organization, time management, prioritization, and initiation. Deficits in these areas can pose significant challenges for individuals with high-functioning ASD.

Between 35-70% of youth with high-functioning ASD present with EF deficits, including deficits in planning, flexibility, inhibition, shifting set, generativity, metacognition, and action monitoring. Common challenges include difficulties getting started on tasks, managing distractions, planning for studying, multi-tasking, keeping materials organized, and prioritizing tasks. This can directly impact academic performance, particularly in areas such as writing, reading comprehension, and math problem solving.

Furthermore, middle school youth with high-functioning ASD may experience EF deficits that impact their ability to process information, remember details, plan and organize work, and manage attention. These deficits can also affect problem-solving skills, impulse inhibition, and multitasking abilities. Abstract thinking and social inferences can also pose challenges.

Implementing Effective Interventions

Given the clear link between EF deficits and poor academic performance in ASD, there is a need for interventions targeting academic EF skills, including planning, organization, time management, and study skills. Such interventions can potentially lead to more successful outcomes in ASD.

Interventions should be individualized to meet the unique needs of each student. This might include strategies such as:

  • Providing clear, step-by-step instructions for tasks
  • Using visual aids to help with organization and planning
  • Teaching study skills, such as note-taking and summarizing information
  • Implementing time management strategies, such as using a planner or calendar
  • Using assistive technology to support organization and memory

In addition, it's crucial to provide ongoing support and reinforcement to help students with high-functioning ASD develop and strengthen their EF skills. This can include regular check-ins with teachers or school counselors, as well as the use of positive reinforcement strategies to encourage continued effort and progress.

By understanding the unique challenges faced by students with high-functioning ASD and implementing effective interventions, it's possible to help these students improve their academic performance and achieve their full potential.

Impact of Stigma on Autism

Stigma, a societal phenomenon that often leads to prejudice and discrimination, has a significant impact on individuals with high functioning autism behaviors and their caregivers. This section will focus on how stigma manifests and the strategies that can be employed to reduce it.

Manifestations of Stigma

Stigma surrounding autism is primarily influenced by a public and professional understanding of autism, combined with the interpretation of visible autistic traits. Factors such as the quality and quantity of contact with autistic people, cultural factors, sex and gender, individual differences, and diagnostic disclosure also play a role in shaping this stigma.

Autistic people often encounter negative experiences in their everyday lives that likely reflect autism stigma. For instance, neurotypical individuals may be less inclined to live in the same building as autistic individuals or to spend time together as friends. In some cases, autistic individuals can be dehumanized by neurotypical individuals. Caregivers of autistic individuals also experience stigma by association, which can impact their well-being.

Stigma can lead to reduced access to health care, reluctance to disclose an autism diagnosis, reluctance to seek support services, and resistance to a diagnosis for their child. The caregivers of autistic people can also experience anxiety and depression as a result of stigma.

Strategies to Reduce Stigma

Given the significant impact of stigma on both autistic individuals and their caregivers, it's imperative to explore strategies that can help to reduce it.

One such approach is the creation of autism-friendly spaces. These environments are designed with the specific needs of autistic individuals in mind, promoting their inclusion and acceptance within the community.

Media representation of autism also plays a crucial role in shaping public perceptions. By increasing inclusive media representation of autism, society can foster a more accurate and empathetic understanding of autistic individuals.

Educational and psychosocial training tools can also be instrumental in reducing stigma. These tools can be used to educate the public and professionals about autism, dispelling misconceptions and promoting understanding.

Lastly, embracing the concept of neurodiversity can be a powerful approach in reducing stigma. Neurodiversity acknowledges and respects the diverse range of human brains and minds, recognizing that all variations, including autism, are valuable and should be respected and celebrated.

By implementing these strategies, society can work towards reducing the stigma associated with high functioning autism behaviors, improving the lives of autistic individuals and their families.


[1]: https://www.thrivingwellnesscenter.com/blog/highfunctioningautismchecklist

[2]: https://thespectrum.org.au/autism-strategy/social-interaction/

[3]: https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/high-functioning-autism

[4]: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html

[5]: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/autism-learning-disabilities/autism-at-work.htm

[6]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6761026/

[7]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8992913/