Autism Spectrum Disorders can be…well confusing. No two children are alike. No two cases are the same. Doctors are still figuring out the ins and outs of the spectrum. Misinformation is plentiful. It can definitely be a beautiful mess to navigate.

What is High Functioning Autism?

I am not a doctor or a therapist.

I do not have all the answers.

However, I am a mom raising a child with autism and an educator who worked in early intervention.

I am not going to try to pretend to be an expert in this – because I am by no means an expert here. But, I am going to give you my take on it all as a family member of a child with Autism.


When my daughter was first diagnosed with ASD we were told she would be non-verbal. Fast forward five years and she was given the label of High Functioning. When she finally broke through and started talking, started showing us that there was no limit for her – it was a huge celebration. But, it was frustrating as services and supports started to be questioned. And all of a sudden we were getting comments out of the blue such as “She doesn’t act/look like she has special needs”…or “She must have outgrown her Autism”

As a parent I felt like I was back at square one fighting for everything that helped my daughter get to where she needed to be. It was confusing as I was conflicted if I really need to be fighting for those services…I mean she was testing out.

But the educator in me knew better, it had seen children regress as services were cut back. I knew what a drastic change in routine and help would do. And so I fought.


Let’s first establish what Autism is. Autism is a disorder in the development of a persons’ social and communication skills. While that is a basic answer, it gives you an idea of the areas of life that autism will effect. The range of severity will vary and how that manifest in each individual can be drastically different.

What is the Definition of Autism?

High Functioning Autism doesn’t exhibit itself easily to those that aren’t already aware of an individual’s diagnosis. The ticks, fears, social and sensory issues, along with mild communication problems are often easy to overlook if a child is high functioning. Their delay in speech and language may not be as obvious. Many people only see the current state of a child, and have no idea what progress they have made in the past. Like all forms of autism, it is a hidden disability.

Some signs of High Functioning Autism:

  • Delayed initial speech but functional communication as child ages.
  • Above average intelligence and logic at an early age.
  • Difficulty in social situations – inability to understand or relate to peer groups.
  • Lack of social comfort – seeming “mature” for their age. Not being able to understand jokes, sarcasm, humor, or typical roughhousing among peers.
  • Obsessive actions regarding appearance, cleanliness, fears and social situations.
  • Sensory issues. This applies to oral, vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile, auditory, and visual.
  • Shortened attention spans.
  • Prone to tantrums or meltdowns when overly tired or overly stimulated.

So how exactly does High Functioning Autism differ from Autism and Asperger? Children with High Functioning Autism are usually confused with children with Asperger and there is some debate as to whether or not dissolve that line. The difference between Asperger and High Functioning Autism is that children with HFA displayed speech and language difficulties in their early childhood years where as children with AS did not. And the difference between HFA/AS and classical Autism is that children with Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism have IQ’s that fall into the normal or even superior range.

My thoughts are- the spectrum comes in many different forms. For those with the High Functioning label it simply means that they have either learned how to compensate and cope with some of their struggles or that for one reason or another certain struggles were not as drastic for them. However, that struggle is still there. As the saying goes, once you have met one child with Autism…you have met one child with Autism.

Don’t let your child’s label be a limit.


This online version of M-CHAT. This tool is designed for children ages 16 months- 30 months of age and is designed to identify children who may benefit from a more in depth developmental and Autism evaluation.

This Parent’s Guide to Children with High Functioning Autism (book by. Claire Hughes Ph.D.)

This IEP Success Kit from Parent-to-Parent.

This list of local resources put together by the Autism Society (it does not include every state –sorry).

And this video that was written and produced by young people with Autism:



Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today. –Thich Nhat Hanh

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