When we talk about high-functioning autism, many people think of eccentric geniuses who march to the beat of their own drum. More often than not, only the favorable traits of high-functioning autism are highlighted while associated challenges are often ignored. This is mainly because some of the greatest minds have been diagnosed on the spectrum. To name a few – Albert Einstein, Issac Newton, Steve Jobs, and Andy Warhol were on the high end of the spectrum!
No wonder many people believe that people with high-functioning autism are gifted intellectuals who have it easier than people with low-functioning autism. However, this perception of high-functioning autism is far from reality. The truth is that people on the high end of the spectrum do not have it easy. They may or may not be exceptionally brilliant, but they sure face various challenges associated with high-functioning autism. Let’s take a look at what high-functioning autism is and why it is more challenging than most people believe.
What is High-Functioning Autism?
The term is generally used to describe people who are on the higher or milder end of the spectrum. They can perform essential life skills, like speaking, reading, and writing without much difficulty. They are usually also able to take part in education programs and have adequate academic skills. Plus, they can often mask the symptoms of autism.
However, it must be noted that it is not a medical diagnosis, which is why high-functioning autism doesn’t offer clear characterization. When people say high-functioning autism, they are generally referring to Level 1 of autism. This level of autism usually does not interfere a lot with school, work, or personal life. However, that doesn’t mean it represents no challenges at all.
Challenges Associated with High Functioning Autism
High-functioning autism comes with a set of its own challenges that can affect the success and happiness of autistic people. Let’s take a look at some of the most common challenges that people with high-functioning autism may struggle with on a daily basis.
1. Severe Sensory Issues
Sensory dysfunction is a common concern for people at the higher end of the spectrum. The severity of sensory issues can vary from mild to severe. Just like people in the middle or lower end of the spectrum, high-functioning autistic people may also experience sensitivity to light, noise, taste, smell, and even touch. Many people with high-functioning autism may also find it hard to stay in crowded spaces.
So, despite having physical and mental capabilities of communicating with people, an individual with high-functioning autism may find it extremely hard to perform daily activities. These problems often make a huge impact on their academic and professional career. As a result, their self-esteem often takes the hit, resulting in other social problems. However, certain measures can be taken to prevent sensory overload in school or the workplace.
2. Extreme Anxiety and Depression
Low self-esteem goes hand in hand with anxiety and depression. Since most people with high-functioning autism have an IQ higher than 70, they are well aware of their social problems. It is debatable whether autism causes anxiety and depression or they are a result of low-esteem and social rejection. However, what’s clear is that people with high-functioning autism are more susceptible to experiencing mood swings, extreme anxiety, and depression as compared to the general population.
3. Compromised Social Skills
Have you experienced a rather confusing social situation that was hard to read? If yes, you probably already know how challenging, awkward, and even embarrassing social settings can get when you can’t understand what’s happening and what you should do. This is what compromised social skills feel like. Now imagine feeling this way all the time.
People with high-functioning autism may struggle with compromised social skills. In other words, they often find themselves clueless in social situations. They fail to pick on social cues, including facial expressions, vocal tone or delivery, mood or atmosphere of the room, hand gestures, proximity, and paralinguistic cues. This can easily lead to awkward or embarrassing situations while interacting with others.
Feeling this way on an almost daily basis can take a toll on anyone, especially people with autism who are already struggling with various other autism-related challenges. Holding a simple conversation or exchanging pleasantries can become a challenge for people at the high end of the spectrum. This often affects the work life and personal life of people with high-functioning autism in many ways!
4. Difficulty Dealing with Change or Transitions
People with autism, including high-functioning autism, have a hard time accepting change and transition. Once a routine develops and they are comfortable with it, even the slightest change can cause anxiety or feelings of uneasiness. For instance, if they are used to having tacos on Tuesdays, a change in the menu can be extremely hard for them. This behavior is beyond their control and can cause a number of problems in their daily life.
5. High Social Expectations
People with high-functioning autism are often able to mask the symptoms of autism. As a result, people tend to forget or overlook the autism-related challenges that they face. They are expected to meet the social standards of society and may be misunderstood or criticized when they don’t. It is important to understand that they are often very aware of their eccentric behavior and are sensitive to negative feedback or reactions from people around them. They are often expected to understand and accept difficult situations and go with the flow, which may be next to impossible.
These are some of the most common challenges that people with high-functioning autism have to deal with on a daily basis. Other challenges may include difficulty in keeping up with verbal communication, lack of planning skills, lack of motivation and determination, difficulty in comprehending or expressing emotions, etc. So, if you are dealing with someone with high-functioning autism, it is important to keep these things and mind and treat them accordingly with love, care, and respect.