Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Children's and parenting health centre

Select An Article

High-functioning autism

High-functioning autism is a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD.

High-functioning autism, or HFA, is similar to Asperger syndrome. Children with these conditions are likely to be of average, or above average intelligence, but will see the world around them in a very different way to children without these conditions.

The main difference between an HFA and Asperger syndrome diagnosis is often down to developing language skills, which are less likely to be delayed with Asperger syndrome.

What are the signs and symptoms of high-functioning autism?

People with high-functioning autism may show behaviours and signs similar to those seen with other types of autism:

  • Delay in motor skills
  • Lack of skill in interacting with others
  • Little understanding of the abstract uses of language, such as humour or give-and-take in a conversation
  • Obsessive interest in specific items or information
  • Strong reactions to textures, smells, sounds, sights, or other stimuli that others might not even notice, such as a flickering light

Unlike people with other forms of autism, people with high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome want to be involved with others. They simply don't know how to go about it. They may not be able to understand others' emotions. They may not read facial expressions or body language well. As a result, they may be teased and often feel like social outcasts. The unwanted social isolation can lead to anxiety and depression.

Causes of high-functioning autism

Autism runs in families. The underlying causes, however, are not known. Potential causes under investigation include:

  • Inherited genetic conditions
  • Other medical problems
  • Environmental factors

 

Diagnosing high-functioning autism

Children with high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome may not be diagnosed as early as children with more severe forms of autism. That's because the symptoms aren't as noticeable. Symptoms may not become a problem until a child is in school. A diagnosis is based on the doctor's assessment of the child's symptoms in three areas:

  • Social interactions - symptoms such as lack of eye contact or an inability to understand another person's feelings
  • Verbal and nonverbal communication - symptoms such as not speaking or repeating a phrase over and over again
  • Interests in activities, objects, or specialised information - symptoms such as playing with only a part of a toy or being obsessed with a particular topic

The doctor may gather information about these areas in several ways:

  • Conducting psychological testing
  • Establishing the history of the child's development
  • Interviewing parents and others who have frequent contact with the child
  • Observing the child's behaviour
  • Requesting physical, neurological, or genetic testing
  • Seeking a speech and language assessment

In addition, the doctor may request tests to rule out other causes of the behaviour, such as hearing problems.

Treating high-functioning autism

High-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome can be treated with a variety of therapies. Behaviour training is the primary method used to help people with high-functioning autism overcome problems with social interaction.

Next Article:

WebMD Medical Reference

Children's health newsletter

Tips to inspire healthy habits
Sign Up

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

man holding back
Myths & facts about back pain
hands grabbing knee
How to keep your joints healthy
bowl of soup
Small changes that lead to weight loss
cute baby
Simple tips to keep baby's skin healthy
african american woman wiping sweat from forehead
See these tips
79x79_hairloss_in_women.jpg
Do you know what causes hair loss?
woman exercising
Exercises for low back pain
sperm and egg
Facts to help you get pregnant
bucket with cleaning supplies in it
Cleaning for a healthy home
rash on skin
Soothe skin and prevent flare-ups
mother and child
Could your baby be allergic to milk?
pregnant woman eating healthy salad
Nutrition needs before pregnancy