Medicine:High-functioning autism

From HandWiki
Short description: People with autism who are deemed to be cognitively "higher functioning" (with an IQ of 70 or greater) than other people with autism
High-functioning autism
SymptomsTrouble with social interaction, impaired communication, restricted interests, repetitive behavior
ComplicationsSocial isolation, employment problems, family stress, bullying, self-harm[1]
Usual onsetBy age two or three[2][3]
CausesGenetic and environmental factors
Diagnostic methodBased on behavior and developmental history
Differential diagnosisAsperger syndrome, ADHD, Tourette syndrome, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder
TreatmentBehavioral therapy, speech therapy, psychotropic medication[4][5][6]
MedicationAntipsychotics, antidepressants, stimulants (associated symptoms)[7][8][9]

High-functioning autism (HFA) is an autism classification where a person exhibits no intellectual disability, but may exhibit deficits in communication, emotion recognition and expression, and social interaction.[10][11][12] HFA is not included in either the American Psychological Association's DSM-5 or the World Health Organization's ICD-10, neither of which subdivides autism based on intellectual capabilities.


High-functioning autism is characterized by features similar to those of Asperger syndrome. The defining characteristic recognized by psychologists is a significant delay in the development of early speech and language skills, before the age of three years.[11] The diagnostic criteria of Asperger syndrome exclude a general language delay.[13]

Further differences in features between people with high-functioning autism and those with Asperger syndrome include the following:[11][14][15][16]

  • People with HFA have a lower verbal reasoning ability
  • Better visual/spatial skills (higher performance IQ) than people with Asperger syndrome
  • Less deviating locomotion (e.g. clumsiness) than people with Asperger syndrome
  • People with HFA more often have problems functioning independently
  • Curiosity and interest for many different things, in contrast to people with Asperger syndrome
  • People with Asperger syndrome are better at empathizing with another
  • The male to female ratio of 4:1 for HFA is much smaller than that of Asperger syndrome


Individuals with autism spectrum disorders, including high-functioning autism, risk developing symptoms of anxiety. While anxiety is one of the most commonly occurring mental health symptoms, children and adolescents with high functioning autism are at an even greater risk of developing symptoms.[17]

There are other comorbidities, the presence of one or more disorders in addition to the primary disorder, associated with high-functioning autism. Some of these include bipolar disorder and obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). In particular the link between HFA and OCD, has been studied; both have abnormalities associated with serotonin.[18]

Observable comorbidities associated with HFA include ADHD and Tourette syndrome. HFA does not cause, nor include, intellectual disabilities. This characteristic distinguishes HFA from low-functioning autism; between 40 and 55% of individuals with autism also have an intellectual disability.[19]


An association between HFA and criminal behavior is not completely characterized. Several studies have shown that the features associated with HFA may increase the probability of engaging in criminal behavior.[18] While there is still a great deal of research that needs to be done in this area, recent studies on the correlation between HFA and criminal actions suggest that there is a need to understand the attributes of HFA that may lead to violent behavior. There have been several case studies that link the lack of empathy and social naïveté associated with HFA to criminal actions.[20]

There is still needs more research on the link between HFA and crimes, because many other studies point out that most people with ASD are more likely to be victims and less likely to commit crimes than the general population. But there are also small-subgroups of people with autism that commit crimes because they lack understanding of the laws they have broken.[21] Misunderstandings are especially common regarding autism and sex offenses, since many people with autism do not receive sex education.[22]


Main page: Social:Causes of autism

Although little is known about the biological basis of autism, studies have revealed structural abnormalities in specific brain regions. Regions identified in the "social" brain include the amygdala, superior temporal sulcus, fusiform gyrus area and orbitofrontal cortex. Further abnormalities have been observed in the caudate nucleus, believed to be involved in restrictive behaviors, as well as in a significant increase in the amount of cortical grey matter and atypical connectivity between brain regions.[23]

There is a mistaken belief that some vaccinations, such as the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, may cause autism. This was based on a research study published by Andrew Wakefield, which has been determined as fraudulent and retracted. The results of this study caused some parents to take their children off vaccines clinically proven to prevent diseases that can cause intellectual disabilities or death. The claim that some vaccinations cause autism has not been proven; multiple large-scale epidemiological studies conducted in Japan, the United States, and other countries do not support this link.[24][25]


HFA is not a recognised diagnosis by the American Psychological Association (DSM-5) or the World Health Organization (ICD-10). HFA is often, however, used in clinical settings to describe a set of symptoms related to an autism spectrum disorder whereby they exhibit standard autism indicators although have an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 70 or greater.[26]


While there exists no single treatment or medicine for people with autism, there exists several strategies to help lessen the symptoms and effects of the condition.

Augmentative and alternative communication

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is used for autistic people who cannot communicate orally. People who have problems speaking may be taught to use other forms of communication, such as body language, computers, interactive devices, and pictures.[27] The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a commonly used form of augmentative and alternative communication with children and adults who cannot communicate well orally. People are taught how to link pictures and symbols to their feelings, desires and observation, and may be able to link sentences together with the vocabulary that they form.[28]

Speech-language therapy

Speech–language therapy can help those with autism who need to develop or improve communication skills.[29] According to the organization Autism Speaks, "speech-language therapy is designed to coordinate the mechanics of speech with the meaning and social use of speech".[28] People with autism may have issues with communication, or speaking spoken words. Speech-language pathologists (SLP) may teach someone how to communicate more effectively with others or work on starting to develop speech patterns.[30] The SLP will create a plan that focuses on what the child needs.

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy helps autistic children and adults learn everyday skills that help them with daily tasks, such as personal hygiene and movement. These skills are then integrated into their home, school, and work environments. Therapists will oftentimes help people learn to adapt their environment to their skill level.[31] This type of therapy could help autistic people become more engaged in their environment.[28] An occupational therapist will create a plan based on a person's needs and desires and work with them to achieve their set goals.

Applied behavioral analysis (ABA)

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is considered the most effective therapy for autism spectrum disorders by the American Academy of Pediatrics.[32] ABA focuses on teaching adaptive behaviors like social skills, play skills, or communication skills[33][34] and diminishing problematic behaviors such as self-injury[35] by creating a specialized plan that uses behavioral therapy techniques, such as positive or negative reinforcement, to encourage or discourage certain behaviors over-time.[36] However, ABA has been strongly criticised by the autistic community, who view it as abusive and detrimental to autistic children's growth.[37][38][39]

Sensory integration therapy

Sensory integration therapy helps people with autism adapt to different kinds of sensory stimuli. Many with autism can be oversensitive to certain stimuli, such as lights or sounds, causing them to overreact. Others may not react to certain stimuli, such as someone speaking to them.[40] Many types of therapy activities involve a form of play, such as using swings, toys and trampolines to help engage people with sensory stimuli.[28] Therapists will create a plan that focuses on the type of stimulation the person needs integration with.


There are no medications specifically designed to treat autism. Medication is usually used for symptoms associated with autism, such as depression, anxiety, or behavioral problems.[41] Medicines are usually used after other alternative forms of treatment have failed.[42]

Criticism of functioning labels

Many medical professionals, autistic people, and supporters of autistic rights disagree with the categorisation of individuals into "high-functioning autism" and "low-functioning autism", stating that the "low-functioning" label causes people to put low expectations on a child and view them as lesser.[43][44] Furthermore, critics of functioning labels state that an individual's functioning can fluctuate from day to day, and categories do not take this into consideration.[44][45] Levels of functioning are unrelated to intellectual disability.[44] Additionally, individuals with "medium-functioning autism" are typically left out of the discussion entirely, and due to the non-linear nature of the autistic spectrum, individuals can be high-functioning in some areas while at the same time being medium or low functioning in other areas.[46]

See also


  1. "Autism spectrum disorder - Symptoms and causes" (in en). 
  2. "NIMH " Autism Spectrum Disorder". October 2016. 
  3. American Psychiatric Association (2013). "Autism Spectrum Disorder. 299.00 (F84.0)". Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. pp. 50–59. doi:10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596. ISBN 978-0-89042-559-6. 
  4. "Management of children with autism spectrum disorders". Pediatrics 120 (5): 1162–82. November 2007. doi:10.1542/peds.2007-2362. PMID 17967921. Retrieved 2019-05-24. 
  5. Sanchack, KE; Thomas, CA (15 December 2016). "Autism Spectrum Disorder: Primary Care Principles.". American Family Physician 94 (12): 972–79. PMID 28075089. 
  6. Sukhodolsky, DG; Bloch, MH; Panza, KE; Reichow, B (November 2013). "Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety in children with high-functioning autism: a meta-analysis.". Pediatrics 132 (5): e1341–50. doi:10.1542/peds.2013-1193. PMID 24167175. 
  7. "An update on pharmacotherapy for autism spectrum disorder in children and adolescents". Current Opinion in Psychiatry 28 (2): 91–101. March 2015. doi:10.1097/YCO.0000000000000132. PMID 25602248. 
  8. "Medication use among children with autism spectrum disorders". Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology 17 (3): 348–55. June 2007. doi:10.1089/cap.2006.17303. PMID 17630868. 
  9. Jaeggi, S. M.; Buschkuehl, M.; Jonides, J.; Perrig, W. J. (2008). "From the Cover: Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105 (19): 6829–33. doi:10.1073/pnas.0801268105. PMID 18443283. Bibcode2008PNAS..105.6829J. 
  10. Sanders, James Ladell (2009). "Qualitative or Quantitative Differences Between Asperger's Disorder and Autism? Historical Considerations". Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 39 (11): 1560–1567. doi:10.1007/s10803-009-0798-0. ISSN 0162-3257. PMID 19548078. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Carpenter, Laura Arnstein; Soorya, Latha; Halpern, Danielle (2009). "Asperger's Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism". Pediatric Annals 38 (1): 30–5. doi:10.3928/00904481-20090101-01. PMID 19213291. 
  12. Andari, Elissar; Duhamel, Jean-René; Zalla, Tiziana; Herbrecht, Evelyn; Leboyer, Marion; Sirigu, Angela (2 March 2019). "Promoting social behavior with oxytocin in highfunctioning autism spectrum disorders". PNAS 107 (9): 4389–4394. doi:10.1073/pnas.0910249107. PMID 20160081. PMC 2840168. 
  13. Asperger's DisorderDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth edition Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) American Psychiatric Association (2000)
  14. T. Attwood, Is There a Difference Between Asperger's Syndrome and High Functioning Autism?
  15. Rinehart, NJ; Bradshaw, JL; Brereton, AV; Tonge, BJ (2002). "Lateralization in individuals with high-functioning autism and Asperger's disorder: A frontostriatal model". Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 32 (4): 321–331. doi:10.1023/A:1016387020095. PMID 12199137. 
  16. Mazefsky, Carla A.; Oswald, Donald P. (2006). "Emotion Perception in Asperger's Syndrome and High-functioning Autism: The Importance of Diagnostic Criteria and Cue Intensity". Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 37 (6): 1086–95. doi:10.1007/s10803-006-0251-6. PMID 17180461. 
  17. Reaven, Judy (2011). "The treatment of anxiety symptoms in youth with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders: Developmental considerations for parents". Brain Research 1380: 255–63. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2010.09.075. PMID 20875799. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 Mazzone, Luigi; Ruta, Liliana; Reale, Laura (2012). "Psychiatric comorbidities in asperger syndrome and high functioning autism: Diagnostic challenges". Annals of General Psychiatry 11 (1): 16. doi:10.1186/1744-859X-11-16. PMID 22731684. 
  19. Newschaffer, Craig J.; Croen, Lisa A.; Daniels, Julie; Giarelli, Ellen; Grether, Judith K.; Levy, Susan E.; Mandell, David S.; Miller, Lisa A. et al. (2007). "The Epidemiology of Autism Spectrum Disorders*". Annual Review of Public Health 28 (1): 235–258. doi:10.1146/annurev.publhealth.28.021406.144007. ISSN 0163-7525. PMID 17367287. 
  20. Lerner, Matthew D.; Haque, Omar Sultan; Northrup, Eli C.; Lawer, Lindsay; Bursztajn, Harold J. (2012). "Emerging Perspectives on Adolescents and Young Adults With High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders, Violence, and Criminal Law". Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 40 (2): 177–90. PMID 22635288. 
  21. "Autism Myths & Misconceptions". Retrieved 2021-08-05. 
  22. Moyer, Melinda Wenner (2019-07-09). "When autistic people commit sexual crimes". Spectrum News. Retrieved 2021-08-05. 
  23. Spencer, Michael; Stanfield, Andrew; Johnstone, Eve (2011). "Brain imaging and the neuroanatomical correlates of autism". in Roth, Ilona; Rezaie, Payam. Researching the Autism Spectrum. pp. 112–55. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511973918.006. ISBN 978-0-511-97391-8. 
  24. Klin, Ami (2006). "Autismo e síndrome de Asperger: Uma visão geral" (in pt). Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria 28: S3–11. doi:10.1590/S1516-44462006000500002. PMID 16791390. 
  25. "A mercurial debate over autism". Nature Neuroscience 8 (9): 1123. September 2005. doi:10.1038/nn0905-1123. ISSN 1546-1726. PMID 16127438. 
  26. de Giambattista, Concetta (2019). "Subtyping the Autism Spectrum Disorder: Comparison of Children with High Functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome". Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 49 (1): 138–150. doi:10.1007/s10803-018-3689-4. PMID 30043350. 
  27. "Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)". 
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 "What Treatments are Available for Speech, Language and Motor Issues?". 
  29. "What is Autism, Asperger Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorders?". 
  30. for you/parents-and-cares/pc speech and language therapy.aspx "Speech and Language Therapy". for you/parents-and-cares/pc speech and language therapy.aspx. 
  31. fact sheet.ashx "Occupational Therapy's Role with Autism". fact sheet.ashx. 
  32. Myers, Scott M.; Johnson, Chris Plauché (1 November 2007). "Management of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders". Pediatrics 120 (5): 1162–1182. doi:10.1542/peds.2007-2362. ISSN 0031-4005. PMID 17967921. Retrieved 20 August 2019. 
  33. "Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA): What is ABA?". 
  34. Matson, Johnny; Hattier, Megan; Belva, Brian (January–March 2012). "Treating adaptive living skills of persons with autism using applied behavior analysis: A review". Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 6 (1): 271–276. doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2011.05.008. 
  35. Summers, Jane; Sharami, Ali; Cali, Stefanie; D'Mello, Chantelle; Kako, Milena; Palikucin-Reljin, Andjelka; Savage, Melissa; Shaw, Olivia et al. (November 2017). "Self-Injury in Autism Spectrum Disorder and Intellectual Disability: Exploring the Role of Reactivity to Pain and Sensory Input". Brain Sci 7 (11): 140. doi:10.3390/brainsci7110140. PMID 29072583. 
  36. "Applied Behavioral Strategies - Getting to Know ABA". 
  40. Smith, M; Segal, J; Hutman, T. Autism Spectrum Disorders. 
  41. National Institute of Mental Health. "Medications for Autism". 
  42. Pope, J; Volkmar, F (November 14, 2014). Medicines for Autism. 
  43. "More Problems with Functioning Labels". Ollibean. 2013-09-26. 
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 Bottema-Beutel, Kristen; Kapp, Steven K.; Lester, Jessica Nina; Sasson, Noah J.; Hand, Brittany N. (1 March 2021). "Avoiding Ableist Language: Suggestions for Autism Researchers". Autism in Adulthood 3 (1): 18–29. doi:10.1089/aut.2020.0014. ISSN 2573-9581. 
  45. "Identity-First Autistic". 
  46. Williams, Kat (2019-04-04). "The Fallacy of Functioning Labels". National Center for Mental Health. Retrieved 2021-08-05. 

Further reading