The division of autism into high and low functioning is a controversial one. Some people believe that it fails to capture the nuances as to how autistic traits manifest in different people, or the many challenges they can represent. Some developmental disabilities days programs that serve adults with autism may, however, use the distinction to help tailor services.
What is high functioning autism?
High functioning is not a formal medical diagnosis. It is generally used as shorthand to describe people with “mild” autism, those able to function in regular society with minimal support who do not have an intellectual disability. This is in contrast to low-functioning autism, where problems with communication, social interaction and self-regulation are more noticeable, often co-morbid with intellectual disability, and thus likely to interfere with daily living. There is some overlap between high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome.
Traits that developmental disabilities days programs may characterize as high functioning include:
Autism is sometimes described as a different way of communicating. One way that this may manifest is in lack of conversational skills and limited vocabulary. Some people with autism may be non-verbal, meaning they do not talk at all (this is not a reflection of intelligence). High functioning autism is often considered to include being able to speak and communicate relatively clearly.
2. Social interaction
Speech is not the only way in which people with autism may struggle to interact with others. They may also find it difficult to read body language, make appropriate responses to other people’s comments or stop themselves from becoming carried away talking about their own interests. People described as high functioning are generally more able to carry on a regular conversation in an appropriate way.
3. Repetitive behavior
Repetitive and fixed patterns of behavior are one of the main diagnostic criteria for autism, but whether it is noticeable or impinges on everyday activities can vary widely. Some of the most obvious types of repetitive behavior are stimming, such as hand flapping. This kind of behavior is less likely to be displayed by someone described as high functioning, or can be more easily regulated.
Autistic episodes can occur when a person with autism becomes over stimulated by their environment or the pressure of social interaction. High-functioning autism may mean that the person is better able to recognize when they are becoming overwhelmed and can take steps to self-regulate, such as removing themselves from a stressful situation or asking for help.
Sometimes, high-functioning autism does not mean the person is more comfortable interacting with the neurotypical world, it may just mean they are better at hiding it. Masking is when a person with autism suppresses their autistic traits and behaviors so they do not appear autistic, even if that involves concealing their distress and potentially suffering or burning out later.
These are some of the characteristics commonly used in day programs for adults with autism to describe high-functioning autism, although there is no official definition. Our developmental disabilities days’ programs for adults with autism are tailored specifically to the individual needs of each participant. They are designed to mitigate many of the limitations of their condition with carefully targeted support. The programs run over a ten month period from September through the end of June and are available with Full or Part-time options. They offer a comprehensive curriculum for young adults 18+ who are living with a range of learning challenges. The programs are all-inclusive, with a focus on skills for independent living, development of recreation and leisure pursuits, social skills, job preparation training and enhanced abilities across a wide range of areas.