Archive for July, 2008

Is My Child High Functioning?


When a child has autism it is not always extreme.  In fact, there are various levels of autism that range from severe autism to high functioning autism, and there are several levels in between.

When dealing with symptoms of autism it is important to remember that just because your child has a headache it does not mean he has a brain tumor.  Autism is the same way.

High functioning autism, sometimes called Asperger Syndrome is a group of symptoms that are part of the autism spectrum, but allow the child or adult with autism to function well.  Language skills, social skills and repetitive behaviors are three main sets of symptoms of autism.

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In moderate to severe autism one or all of these symptoms are present an individual and they are quite noticeable.  They also impede the individual from interacting in a comfortable way, and they stand in the way of certain types of communication, for instance, eye contact.

One way to check on your child’s growth is to see if the child interacts normally, listens and responds to you and looks at you when you talk.  We are not talking about being shy in this situation.  We are discussing the fact that the child is showing signs of not hearing you or not paying attention to you.

There are issues that come up with high functioning autism such as issues with language and words, not interacting and socializing with other children and all of the other main symptoms of autism.  The difference is that children with high functioning autism are usually average or above average in intelligence.  They are usually passionate about one or two specific topics, don’t like “small talk” and often have a hard time organizing time, managing conflict and don’t do well with crowds, such as at the mall.

If you are seeing some of these symptoms in your child, it is best to have a pediatrician who is experienced treating autism give you a diagnosis after performing a thorough examination on your child.

There are many methods of treating autism and many new ways of improving symptoms, including diet.  Once you have determined whether your child has autism, explore the ways to treat it that feel right to you.  Do your best and make the most of your situation.  You might be surprised at just how well things go.

Add comment July 31st, 2008

High Functioning Autism Often Missed in Adults

Autism is a disorder that is diagnosed by looking at certain symptoms, predominately in children.  When a doctor is looking at a child to determine whether or not an individual has autism, they are looking at symptoms such as repetitive behaviors, extreme difficulty or lack of socialization,  impaired communication and several other symptoms that are usually less intense and obvious.

What, though, of individuals who have not been diagnosed and are now adults?  These individuals missed the “window of opportunity” and some of them have been high functioning enough to get through life without too many issues.  They might have some quirks, such as counting and re-counting silverware or putting books or other items into exact order and re-checking them over and over to make sure they are staying that way.  These mannerisms could be attributed to a variety of things in any adult – especially if the rest of their life looked pretty normal.  They might just be considered a bit eccentric in some ways.

Too often, however, these are undiagnosed symptoms of high functioning autism that have been missed because there were no overwhelming symptoms at the age when most people are diagnosed – around 2 to 4 years of age.  Some children are diagnosed later, however, there is usually very little attention to diagnosis in teens – especially late teens – and adults.  In fact, because of this, there can be either no diagnosis or a misdiagnosis, attaching the symptoms to another mental health issue such as social anxiety disorder or depression incorrectly.

More attention is now being paid to adults that show symptoms of autism.  Researchers have discovered information that can help, and doctors are looking more closely at symptoms that just don’t quite fit into other areas of mental health. 

It is essential that adults with autism are able to get the attention and treatment they need to help them to lead balanced and normal lives.  The fact that more information has become available and more physicians and other mental health professionals are looking for the issues and answers for these individuals will lead to more fulfilling lives for adults with autism.

Add comment July 26th, 2008

Kids with High Functioning Autism Sail into Self-Esteem

Too often, kids with disabilities are left out of the picture when it comes to just being kids and having some fun and support with recreation.  Kids with autism are left out of the equation more than kids with most other disabilities.


One company has set out to change all that.  The Brendan Sail Training Program in
Annapolis, MD has opened new doors for children with autism and their families.  The program sponsors a camp that teaches children with high functioning autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder how to sail. 


Though many children with autism have a difficult time with social skills and learning from books or in a classroom, they do very well with many hands-on activities, so sailing is a great activity for them.


The camp was founded by a businessman from
Washington, D.C. who recognized the fact that his own child – who had learning disabilities – was gaining self confidence and self esteem through sailing.  In fact, the child did so well that he was able to help train older sailors and crew members.  Dad said that he had confidence that he did not show when doing anything else.  Out of that experience, the Brendan Sail Training Program was started.


Since that time, many parents have seen their children blossom in a similar way and have seen them complete the program and graduate.  For graduation, these sailors take their families out for a sail, the icing on the cake for everyone. 


One junior sailor is quoted as saying that ‘no one labels you here.  Everyone is nice to you.”  That statement alone puts it all into perspective, especially for children struggling with autism, which gets them labeled repeatedly because of what they might do or not do.


You never know where fun, support and positive experiences will come from, and you never know what will enhance self esteem.  By all accounts, sailing has been an unexpected gift to these children and their families.  Hopefully we will see more programs like this in more areas of the country as well.

Add comment July 24th, 2008

Asperger’s Syndrome and High Functioning Autism

Asperger’s Syndrome is a specific diagnosis within the autism spectrum disorders category.  In the past and up until recently, the main difference between Asperger’s and the category of high functioning autism was connected to whether the person developed language skills as a toddler.  If the individual developed language skills as a toddler, they were considered to have Asperger’s and if they did not, they were considered high functioning, even if they developed language skills later on.  More recently, diagnosis based on this criteria has been reconsidered, and there is a definite question as to whether language is the best basis to determine the diagnosis of Asperger’s vs. high functioning autism.

Some of the similar symptoms between Asperger’s and high functioning autism are that they both have the same basic impairments and symptoms.  In the case of Asperger’s and high functioning autism – compared to autism in and of itself – individuals in both of these groups have average or above average intelligence.

What differentiates the two conditions are some issues such as age of onset of symptoms and motor skill difficulties.  Even though the two categories are somewhat separate and different, many of the main features and symptoms of Asperger’s and high functioning autism are largely the same and treatment, therapies and educational assistance is similar or the same in many cases.

Asperger’s has some distinct and unique symptoms from high functioning autism and their own separate areas of success, as well.  It is good to focus on these unique distinctions for both groups.

Add comment July 17th, 2008

High Functioning Autism not an Official Diagnosis

High functioning autism is a somewhat complex issue.  In reality, there is no actual diagnosis called “high functioning autism.”  There is also no specific definition of high functioning autism.  It is a term that is often used to describe an individual with autism who is able to do many things normally or nearly normally without being extremely disabled by the disorder.

Doctors  usually group people with autism into specific categories which supposedly make their overall symptoms easier to identify at a glance and make them easier to treat.  For example, Rhett Syndrome and Fragile X are two types of disorders that are clear cut because of their symptoms and very easy to diagnose.  “Classic” autism is also clear cut, according to physicians who treat the disorder. As a result, these types of disorders are easier to diagnose.

The confusion and disagreements come in where individuals can function well – thus are called “high functioning” – yet show other clear signs of autism and autistic behavior.  For example, they may be able to read and write well, show affection and engage in other social behavior, yet not be able to make or keep eye contact, play or engage in a conversation – classic signs of autism. 

The question then is whether this is high functioning autism, Asperger’s syndrome or somewhere in between.  Does this individual get thrown into a “catch-all” general category?  Not exactly.  This person will usually simply be considered high functioning.

Since high functioning autism is not an actual diagnosis, it tends to be more of a description for individuals who have some of the symptoms of autism but also have atypical language development and other issues.  The main reason for this description being helpful is that it helps many people to receive appropriate treatment and it is widely accepted.  Regardless of whether it is a technical diagnosis, a description or a category, using it can help identify individuals who can function well and progress with treatment for their autism symptoms.

Add comment July 17th, 2008

Helping A Child With Autism Find Success at School

Many children with autism attend school and the number is rising.  It has been noted in studies that numerous children with autism are quite successful in school and do well with the right supports.  If your child has autism – especially high functioning autism – and school is a possibility in your child’s future, the following information will be helpful in helping you to support them.

When trying to determine your child’s classes, think about putting them in classes that will gradually move them into group social situations and not do it all at once.  Also, try to put them into classes that would be interesting to them.  For instance, a gym class might not be best for starters due to the social pressure it might put on your child.  However, an art class might be a great beginning because, for the most part, your child could concentrate on his or her own work.

Helping your child by providing an individual aide to help with assignments, navigating classes, keeping paperwork organized and such, would likely help your child not to feel overwhelmed. Having another student as a pal who could sit with them at lunch and at other unstructured times could help your child be less overwhelmed.   Also, creating structured situations for interactions with others, possibly within the confines of a game-playing situation, would be a good way to help expand social skills.

As for books and assignments, even the most organized students without any barriers get confused from time to time.  If your child has a three ring binder that has a notebook or folder for each class in it, this might help them keep assignments straight.  Books are a little more difficult, so arranging for a set of books to keep at home and a separate set to keep at school is often quite helpful.  This way, your child won’t have to remember which books to take home because they will all be there to begin with. 

Daily schedules and checklists help keep your child organized.  Since most of us rely on these things to get through our days or weeks, it is logical that our children would be greatly assisted by them as well.  Each task, school class and item should be individually written.  If you want your child to clean his or her room, listing each item, such as make your bed, throw out trash, vacuum, etc. will help the child focus and not become so overwhelmed.

Counseling, communication coaching, and learning strategies to deal with stress or anger are all ways that your child can be more successful at school.  There are other ideas that can be added to these basics, as well.

Children with autism have been extremely successful when they have the appropriate supports in place.  The supports contained here should help create a sound foundation for your child in school.

Add comment July 10th, 2008

Autism and College – Can it Work?

What can you do if your college- age or soon to be college-age child has autism and there are thoughts and ideas that college would be an appropriate next step?A decade ago, there would be few answers and little hope regarding that question.  Today, however, this isn’t the case. 

Currently, there are numerous programs at colleges throughout the country that help individuals with autism enroll in college, navigate through classes, homework and more, and get the best grades possible.  These programs have helped many individuals with autism move forward in socialization, learning and life.   

For example, a group called Achieving in Higher Education With Autism/Developmental Disabilities (AHEADD) helps students struggling with autism and trying to get – and keep – their grade points up. 

At Community College at Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, one student who has Asperger’s Syndrome had a grade point average of 1.5.  He knew he could do better than that, but at college level, did not feel comfortable with his parents intervening.  He found AHEADD, and by working with the organization, he was able to raise his grade point average from that 1.5 to 3.6. 

Many college students with autism or Asperger’s have a difficult time navigating college life, keeping track of assignments, being away from home.  They must become their own advocates, which is quite a change for them and sometimes a huge surprise and change for their families.  In the long run, however, it helps all involved to grow. 

If you have a child with autism or Asperger’s who is considering college, it is a good idea to check with colleges well in advance and determine whether they have a counselor and/or department that has experience with individuals with autism.  Also, determine whether your child is ready to be away from home, and, if so, how much help and support they will need.  Meet with the staff.  Find out if there are adequate psychological and psychiatric services.  Check to see if there is an organization such as AHEADD that deals specifically with college students who have autism or Asperger’s. 

Once you have determined these things, help your child to the extent that he or she wants your help, especially in directing them to a field of study that they have an interest in. 

Now, more than ever before, it is easier for individuals with autism or Asperger’s to attend college and there is more support for the individuals and their families. The main thing it takes is some encouragement, some hope, some research and some support.  You can find those things through the community and in your family, and they will lead you and your child beyond your wildest dreams.

Add comment July 10th, 2008

Camp Offers Social Skills, Fun and Peace

Springfield, VA has a special camp for kids with autism.  The camp is called Camp Shalom – the Hebrew word for peace.  This is appropriate, since the communication skills being taught are those that help kids grow in a happy and peaceful way.

The skills being taught are friendly behaviors, sharing, taking turns and making conversation.  These skills are taught in the morning in small groups so the lessons are not overwhelming, and then in the afternoon, the kids get a chance to use their skills in a bigger group.

The camp’s mission is to help children with high-functioning autism, ADD, ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome improve their social skills.  The camp tries to teach skills that will help these children for a lifetime, as they move from where they are now to adulthood, so that they will be successful. 

Camp Shalom offers activities including art projects, water sports and even trips to the National Zoo.  In addition, there are additional activities for the older children including going to the grocery store and purchasing the necessary items for lunch, and then returning to camp and each child making their own sack lunch, an important life skill.  The children then work on social skills by taking their sack lunches to the park and having a picnic together.

Additional skills that are addressed include impulse-control and anger management.  Some children have issues with these areas, and Camp Shalom helps teach them how to deal with and overcome them over time by learning anger management, stress management and relaxation techniques.

With many of the issues that children with autism – and their families – have to face, having an organization like Camp Shalom is a wonderful way to bring some peace into their lives.

Add comment July 7th, 2008

Unique Autism Program Partnership at University of Arizona

As more strides are being made when it comes to autism, a new program at the University of Arizona is bringing hope to sixteen students with autism.  The new residential program will bring the students from Chapel Haven West – an existing program for individuals with autism – to the University of Arizona in a unique partnership.

The sixteen students will become integrated onto the UA campus in a variety of ways, the most important being with the department of speech, language and hearing science.  UA graduate students will work with Chapel Haven students on a unique program to enhance social communication skills, which are one of the biggest difficulties for people with autism.

The students with autism will be able to work on their skills and the graduate students, in return, will gain data regarding what works and what doesn’t, how well different ideas work, and more.  An additional benefit of this unique program is that these Chapel Hill students will potentially be able to continue their education at UA. 

Even if some students do not end up attending UA after the program, they will still have a unique, positive educational and social experience on campus.  This is not a medical experiment.  This is a special program involving education, integration and inclusion, which are all important issues in dealing with autism.

Since autism affects a person’s ability to communicate, especially because they miss certain communication cues, there are difficulties with jobs, friendships and higher education.  This project will address and hopefully find ways to at least partially overcome these issues.  The Chapel Haven- UA partnership is very unique because most special programs focus on children or adolescents and not college-age individuals.

This partnership will aim at enhancing social communication skills enough that when individuals complete the two year program, they will be able to continue to college or be prepared for employment.  Either way, this will be a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Add comment July 7th, 2008


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