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.

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