High Functioning Autism Behaviors

Explore high functioning autism behaviors, therapies, and success strategies. Shatter the misconceptions!

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
June 18, 2024
Published On
June 18, 2024

Understanding High-Functioning Autism

High-functioning autism is a term often used to describe a subset of individuals on the autism spectrum who possess above-average intellectual abilities. Despite the strengths that come with this subtype, individuals with high-functioning autism also face unique challenges that can impact various aspects of their lives.

Definition and Characteristics

High-functioning autism is a subtype of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) characterized by individuals who possess above-average intellectual abilities. While these abilities offer certain strengths, individuals with high-functioning autism also often exhibit specific behavioral patterns that can impact their lives in various ways, including social interactions, sensory sensitivities, and cognitive and emotional challenges.

Common characteristics of high-functioning autism behaviors include difficulties with understanding non-verbal cues, maintaining eye contact, interpreting social situations, and cognitive difficulties with executive functioning. Emotionally, individuals may experience intense emotions and have difficulty regulating them. Sensory sensitivities can also be prevalent, leading to discomfort or distress in certain environments or situations.

Characteristics Description
Social Interaction Difficulties Challenges with understanding non-verbal cues, maintaining eye contact, interpreting social situations
Sensory Sensitivities Discomfort or distress in certain environments or situations
Cognitive Challenges Difficulties with executive functioning
Emotional Challenges Experiencing intense emotions and difficulty regulating them

Diagnosis and Evaluation

Diagnosing high-functioning autism typically involves observing a child's development and behavior over time, starting as early as 18 months. Formal diagnosis is usually possible by the age of 2, although some individuals may receive a diagnosis of high-functioning autism later in childhood, adolescence, or even adulthood. Doctors and specialists rely on established diagnostic criteria, such as the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), to make a diagnosis.

It's important to note that the diagnosis of high-functioning autism can often be complex due to the wide range of symptoms that can vary in severity. Therefore, a comprehensive evaluation that includes medical, developmental, and behavioral assessments is crucial to ensure an accurate diagnosis. Once diagnosed, individuals can then access the necessary interventions and therapies to support their unique needs and enhance their quality of life.

Interventions and Therapies

A range of interventions and therapies are available for individuals displaying high-functioning autism behaviors. These approaches can significantly enhance their social skills, communication, and overall quality of life.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is one of the most widely used interventions for individuals with autism. It demonstrates significant effects on socialization, communication, and expressive language in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A meta-analysis of 14 randomized control trials supports the effectiveness of ABA interventions Gold Star Rehab.

ABA involves understanding the specific behaviors of an individual and their response to different environments. It uses positive reinforcement to encourage beneficial behaviors and decrease harmful ones. Each ABA program is tailored to suit a person's unique needs and capabilities.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective intervention for individuals with high-functioning autism. It helps them manage anxiety, identify triggers for negative behaviors, and develop effective coping strategies Gold Star Rehab.

CBT is particularly beneficial for those experiencing anxiety-related challenges alongside autism. The therapy involves recognizing negative thought patterns and learning to replace them with more positive, realistic ones. It also focuses on teaching skills to manage stress and cope with problematic situations.

Social Skills Training (SST)

Social Skills Training (SST) focuses on teaching basic social skills to individuals with high-functioning autism. Its aim is to enhance social interaction, conversation skills, understanding humor, and reading emotional cues Gold Star Rehab.

SST can occur in one-on-one settings or in group environments. It can help individuals learn how to make friends, maintain relationships, and improve their overall social functioning.

Speech Therapy

Speech therapy is essential in the treatment of high-functioning autism. It focuses on improving communication skills, speech, language, and social communication abilities Gold Star Rehab.

Different techniques are used to enhance verbal communication skills, and may include alternative forms of communication based on individual needs. The therapy can help individuals express their thoughts and feelings more effectively, understand instructions, and participate in conversations.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy plays a crucial role in supporting individuals with high-functioning autism. It addresses their unique challenges and needs, focusing on enhancing daily living skills, promoting independence, and improving overall quality of life Gold Star Rehab.

Occupational therapists work closely with individuals and their families to develop individualized treatment plans. They can provide strategies to manage sensory sensitivities, improve motor skills, and enable more successful participation in school, work, and social environments.

These interventions and therapies, when tailored to the individual's needs, can significantly enhance the quality of life of those displaying high-functioning autism behaviors. The key is to identify the most suitable strategies and therapies and to provide consistent, ongoing support.

Challenges Faced by Individuals

Individuals with high-functioning autism often face numerous challenges which can range from social interaction difficulties to sensory sensitivities and cognitive-emotional challenges. These high functioning autism behaviors, though varied, help us understand the experiences of those with this condition better.

Social Interaction Difficulties

One of the most common challenges associated with high-functioning autism is difficulty in social interactions. These individuals may struggle to understand and interpret social cues, which can lead to misunderstandings and social isolation. They may also have difficulty in understanding the emotions and intentions of others, which can further complicate their social interactions.

While they may desire social connections and friendships, the challenges associated with social interactions can make it difficult for them to form and maintain these relationships. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and frustration, particularly in environments that demand high levels of social interaction.

Sensory Sensitivities

Sensory sensitivities are another common challenge faced by individuals with high-functioning autism. Over 96% of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) report hyper and hypo-sensitivities in multiple domains, with sensory behavioral differences ranging from mild to severe and persisting through adulthood.

These sensory processing concerns have been a key feature of ASD clinical descriptions since the original reports by Asperger and Kanner, with distress from particular sensory stimuli leading to self-injurious and aggressive behavior in individuals unable to communicate their duress.

For instance, individuals with ASD exhibit atypical visual behavior, such as avoiding or seeking visual input, with reports of enhanced detail perception for simple stimuli but impairment in more complex tasks.

Cognitive and Emotional Challenges

Cognitive and emotional challenges are also common in individuals with high-functioning autism. Studies have shown that these individuals may perform poorly in conditions requiring the integration of information across multiple sensory modalities, indicating deficits in multisensory integration (MSI) that may contribute to atypical perceptual experiences.

Moreover, individuals with ASD may have difficulty in selective attention tasks, with studies showing diminished P3 amplitudes and potential deficits in selective inhibition and attention, particularly in challenging sensory environments.

These cognitive and emotional challenges can impact various aspects of their lives, including their academic performance, career prospects, and personal relationships. It's vital to recognize and understand these challenges to provide the necessary support and interventions to individuals with high-functioning autism.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals with high-functioning autism often experience co-occurring disorders. These are mental health conditions that exist concurrently with autism and can significantly affect an individual's behavior and overall wellbeing.

Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression are common co-occurring disorders in people with high-functioning autism. Studies suggest that individuals with high-functioning autism are more likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder than the general population.

These mental health conditions can exacerbate the challenges faced by individuals with high-functioning autism, such as difficulties with social interaction and sensory sensitivities. Moreover, they may also impact the effectiveness of interventions and therapies aimed at managing autism behaviors. Some adults with level 1 autism may benefit from medication to control the symptoms of these co-occurring conditions along with certain autism traits.


Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are also frequently seen in individuals with high-functioning autism. These conditions can further contribute to the complexities faced by these individuals and significantly affect their cognitive and emotional functioning.

ADHD can cause difficulties with attention, impulse control, and hyperactivity, while OCD can lead to recurring, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These behaviors can be challenging to manage and may require specific therapeutic interventions or medication.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is another co-occurring condition that can be present in individuals with high-functioning autism. This disorder is characterized by episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs.

The presence of bipolar disorder can complicate the management of autism behaviors and necessitate additional therapeutic and medication interventions. Understanding and addressing these co-occurring disorders is critical in developing a comprehensive approach to managing high-functioning autism behaviors.

In conclusion, the presence of co-occurring disorders in individuals with high-functioning autism underscores the need for comprehensive and individualized treatment plans. By recognizing and addressing these conditions, healthcare providers, caregivers, and individuals with autism can work together to manage autism behaviors effectively and improve overall wellbeing.

Coping Strategies and Support

Understanding and supporting individuals with high-functioning autism requires a recognition of their unique behaviors and the coping mechanisms they employ. Here, we delve into the various strategies these individuals use to navigate social situations, communication, and emotional experiences.

Mimicking Social Behaviors

Dr. Nancy Musarra points out that high-functioning individuals with autism often learn to mimic social behaviors observed in movies and television shows. This mimicry helps them hide their social difficulties, leading to delays in formal diagnosis until adulthood. The ability to mimic social cues and engage in conversation can be a significant coping mechanism for these individuals, who may struggle with spontaneous social interactions [5].

Eye Contact and Verbal Communication

Individuals with high-functioning autism may have difficulty with eye contact, as it is not automatic for them. They may need to make a conscious effort to maintain eye contact during conversations, and their tendency to stare or glance away should not be misinterpreted as lying or disinterest. This is an important consideration when communicating with individuals exhibiting high functioning autism behaviors.

In addition, these individuals may exhibit speech difficulties such as a lack of rhythm, odd inflection, monotone pitch, or inappropriate volume. This is a common characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and should not be seen as a sign of disrespect. Responding harshly to these verbal communication quirks can escalate anxiety and worsen the situation [5].

Specific Interests and Communication

People with high-functioning autism often exhibit extensive knowledge about a particular subject. This can lead to conversations filled with detailed facts, statistics, and intricate knowledge. While this form of communication can seem one-sided, redirecting them to answer questions, summarize points, and encouraging reciprocal conversation can be helpful in facilitating more balanced interactions.

Emotional Shutdowns

Individuals with high-functioning autism may experience emotional shutdowns when faced with intense emotions, leading to a lack of expressed empathy. It's crucial to understand that this shutdown is a coping mechanism to deal with overwhelming sensory experiences. Responding with patience, understanding, and support can make a significant difference in such situations [5].

In conclusion, understanding these coping strategies and behaviors is essential for supporting individuals with high-functioning autism. With the right approach and understanding, it's possible to facilitate positive interactions and provide the necessary support for these individuals.

Success and Employment

A significant part of the narrative surrounding high-functioning autism behaviors is the potential for success, particularly within the realms of academics and employment. Despite the unique challenges faced by individuals with high-functioning autism, many are able to thrive in both scholastic and professional environments.

Academic and Career Success

Individuals with high-functioning autism often possess unique strengths and abilities that can contribute positively to their academic and career success. These may include exceptional attention to detail, the capacity for deep focus, and a predilection for systematic thinking. As such, many individuals with high-functioning autism excel in fields that require these specific traits.

However, achieving this success is not without its challenges. The social and communication difficulties inherent in autism can make traditional academic and career paths more difficult. Yet, with the right support and accommodations, individuals with high-functioning autism can overcome these obstacles and achieve significant success.

Challenges in Employment

Despite the potential for success, individuals with high-functioning autism face a high rate of unemployment. In 2021, 85% of adults with ASD were unemployed, highlighting the high unemployment rates among individuals with autism [6]. Many of these individuals face barriers in the job application process due to challenges in social skills, communication, and behavior management.

Despite these difficulties, it is important to note that with the appropriate support and accommodations, individuals with high-functioning autism can thrive in the workplace. Employers can play a critical role in this by providing an inclusive and supportive environment, as well as facilitating the necessary accommodations.

Job Opportunities and Success Factors

There is a wide range of careers in which individuals with high-functioning autism can excel. Certain technical careers that are less interview and conversation-based may provide better chances for individuals with ASD to showcase their skills.

The key to success in the workplace for individuals with high-functioning autism lies in finding a job that aligns with their strengths and interests. Additionally, supportive employers and coworkers, a clear understanding of job expectations, and the availability of necessary accommodations can significantly contribute to job success.

In conclusion, while individuals with high-functioning autism may face distinct challenges in academics and employment, they also possess unique strengths that can be harnessed for success. The key is to provide the necessary support and accommodations, and to foster an environment that values diversity and inclusion.


[1]: https://www.abtaba.com/blog/high-functioning-autism-behaviors

[2]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3086654/

[3]: https://www.verywellhealth.com/why-high-functioning-autism-is-so-challenging-259951

[4]: https://www.verywellhealth.com/treatments-for-adults-with-asperger-syndrome-259901

[5]: https://www.drnancymusarra.com/how-to-talk-to-someone-with-high-functioning-autism/

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