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High Functioning Autism Symptoms: Key Questions Answered

High Functioning Autism Symptoms

Contrary to popular belief, the term “high-functioning autism” is not in fact a recognised medical term or a formal diagnosis.  Instead, it is simply the name given informally to a case of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) where the individual in question is able to function at a relatively high level.

High-functioning autism symptoms differ significantly from one individual to the next.  However, those concerned are usually able to live independently and can competently handle basic daily tasks like personal hygiene, getting dressed, eating, shopping and so on.

Individuals with high-functioning autism will often encounter major and prolonged difficulties with social interactions and certain aspects of communication.  They may have problems building and maintaining relationships, their lives may be affected by restrictive habits and they may find it difficult to gain employment.

Why the Signs of High Functioning Autism Are Often Overlooked

One of the biggest causes of concern with the condition is the way in which the signs of high-functioning autism are often overlooked entirely.  The risk of autism symptoms not being picked up on is particularly high where autism affects adults, adolescents or teenagers - most cases of autism are identified at a relatively early age.

Signs and symptoms of high-functioning autism are routinely overlooked due to the fact that those concerned are often highly intelligent, if not gifted.  Throughout the course of their life, they learn how to effectively and convincingly hide their struggles, making it difficult or impossible for anyone to pick up on the difficulties they are facing.

For example, whereas a child with autism may avoid eye contact, shy away from social situations and avoid speaking, adults with autism may force themselves to do all of these things to mask their condition.

Cultural differences also play a role, as the behaviours associated with high-functioning autism are considered neither unusual nor problematic in some communities.  In addition, individuals from poorer background may not have access to the specialist healthcare needed for a formal diagnosis to be made.

What Are the Main Signs of high Functioning Autism in Adults?

The main signs of high-functioning autism in adults are largely similar to those of childhood cases. Though as mentioned above, symptoms in adults may be significantly subtler or deliberately masked by the individual, making them much more difficult to detect.

While all cases differ, most adults with autism will struggle in one or more of the following areas:

  • Emotional Sensitivity
  • Fixation on Particular Subjects or Ideas
  • Linguistic Oddities and Reluctance to Communicate
  • Social Difficulties or Social Anxiety
  • Problems Processing Physical Sensations
  • Devotion to Routines
  • Development of Repetitive or Restrictive Habits
  • Dislike of Change
  • Focus on Self and Lack of Empathy
  • Unusual Movement Patterns

The fact that all adults have their own unique personalities and character traits can also make it difficult to identify a case of high-functioning autism. Some adults are more emotionally sensitive than others, some are antisocial in the extreme, many have a strong dislike for change and linguistic capabilities vary significantly from one person to the next.

This is why it is often challenging to spot the signs of autism in someone else.  More often than not, high-functioning autism is diagnosed only when the individual concerned brings their difficulties to the attention of a professional personally.

When Are the Symptoms of Autism in Adults a Cause for Concern?

As is the case with all physical and psychological health concerns, it’s never too early to begin taking the symptoms of autism in adults seriously.  If you think you may be autistic for any reason, it is in your best interests to organise a consultation with an appropriate health professional at the earliest possible juncture.

One of the biggest challenges with ASD is the way in which far too many cases are not identified until a relatively late stage.  By which point, effectively managing the condition can be more difficult.

Hence, the symptoms of autism in adults are a cause for concern the moment you pick up on them - irrespective of how mild they may be.

How is Mild Autism in Adults Typically Treated or Managed?

The vast majority of cases of adult autism are accompanied by comparatively mild symptoms.  This is due to the fact that if the individual’s symptoms were more severe, they would have probably been picked up on at an earlier age.

Mild autism symptoms in adults can be managed in a variety of ways - treatment in all instances begins with a formal diagnosis with an appropriate medical professional.  Adults with autism may then be referred to specially trained counsellors or psychologists, local support groups may be recommended, and adult autism forums can be great places to meet others facing the same difficulties.

With adult autism, almost all cases are self-managed, and treatment programs are always entered into voluntarily by those affected. 

Autism Symptoms

Diagnosing Autism in Adults: How Does it Work?

For the reasons already outlined, diagnosing autism in adults can be comparatively difficult.  Facing the realisation that you may be autistic is never easy - particularly if you have been masking or compensating for your symptoms for some time.

Whether the issue has been brought your attention by someone else or you are concerned with any aspect of your wellbeing, it is important to speak to a trained medical professional at the earliest possible juncture.

This is typically how the process of diagnosing autism in adults works:

  1. An appointment is arranged with a GP or appropriate health professional, during which the patient’s concerns and health history are discussed openly and objectively.
  2. If the doctor believes it is necessary, an autism assessment will subsequently be arranged with an appropriate specialist.
  3. Further appointments, interviews and assessments may be necessary to reach a formal diagnosis, after which you will be provided with a report.
  4. If you are diagnosed as autistic, recommendations will be provided as to how the difficulties you are facing can be managed.
  5. Call your GP at the earliest possible stage to organise an appointment and assessment, if you believe you may be autistic.

Are High Functioning Autism Female Adults Symptoms Different to the Signs of Autism in Adult Men?

Extensive studies into autism have found that boys are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls.  Statistically, a boy or man is 400% more likely to be diagnosed than a girl or woman of a similar age.

However, why this is the case is not entirely clear.

It has been suggested by some that autism in adult women symptoms may be somewhat different to the signs of autism in adult men.  For example, a study carried out in 2015 found that women may be genetically “immune” to some of the symptoms of autism that affect men.  Particularly when it comes to social behaviour, girls and women with autism may function more ‘normally’ than their male counterparts.

This particular theory is heavily disputed, but there is nonetheless overwhelming evidence to suggest that women are far less likely to be diagnosed with autism than men. Though this does not necessarily suggest that women are less likely to be autistic than men - it could simply be that their symptoms are more difficult to identify.

Autism Symptoms in Adults Checklist

On a final note, it is important to acknowledge the fact that no combination of signs or symptoms can be used to formally diagnose a case of autism, without the individual in question first undergoing a professional assessment.

Picking up on potential indicators of adult autism is nonetheless vital, in order to know when and where to seek expert advice.

Some of the main signs of autism in adults (typical in most cases) include the following:

  • Difficulties understanding the thoughts and feelings of others
  • An unwillingness or inability to build or maintain friendships
  • Awkwardness in social situations and reluctance to socialise
  • Finding it difficult or impossible to communicate your feelings
  • Not being able to understand sarcasm or figurative language
  • Feeling frightened or anxious when your daily routine changes
  • Problems maintaining eye contact with the others during conversation
  • Stress or anxiety when others enter your personal space
  • An obsessive fixation with specific objects or details
  • Poor understanding of social rules and etiquette

As with all cases of childhood autism, early identification and diagnosis holds the key to successful management of autism in adults.

For more information about our Free Autism Course or to discuss our online college in more detail, contact a member of our admissions team today.