At Real Autism Care, we often have parents asking us “What’s the difference between Aspergers Syndrome and High Functioning Autism?” and “What exactly is High Functioning Autism?”
High Functioning Autism is essentially the term that replaced Aspergers Syndrome in 2013.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) release a publication called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which contains a set of criteria for psychologists to use to diagnose mental disorders, including autism. In their latest edition, changes were made to the diagnostic criteria of autism. Previously, Autism Spectrum Disorder came under a category called Pervasive Developmental Disorders and had a number of conditions that fell under that category such as Autistic Disorder, Aspergers Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified. These labels now no longer exist as they all fall under the umbrella term Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The change made by the APA came about due to shared symptoms between the disorders and was made with the aim to emphasise the dimensional nature of autism and allow for the assessment of the individual’s need for support. This change was considered quite controversial, with many individuals who were previously diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome refusing to acknowledge the change in classification as they do not believe their diagnosis is the same as those with more severe presentations of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
What is High Functioning Autism?
High Functioning Autism is a term that is used to describe individuals on the autism spectrum who have a normal or higher intelligence and a strong language ability, but have the core features of Autism Spectrum Disorder; difficulties in social communication and restricted patterns of behaviour and interests. These individuals are considered to display a mild presentation of autism and require less support than those that display a more severe presentation.
Individuals with High Functioning Autism may experience difficulty:
• Understanding and recognising emotions
• Understanding non-verbal communication such as body language
• Understanding other’s perspectives (known as Theory of Mind)
• Developing and maintaining friendships
The average age of diagnosis of individuals with High Functioning Autism is 11.13 years. In a study of 156 individuals diagnosed with High Functioning Autism, 77% of these individuals received their diagnosis after the age of 15 years, with approximately 10% of these individuals not receiving their diagnosis until after the age of 20.
Individuals with High Functioning Autism are typically enrolled in mainstream schools.
There is a high rate of anxiety in individuals with High Functioning Autism. Research suggests that this may be a result of an increased insight into their differences when comparing themselves to their peers.