Adults with high functioning autism may face the unique challenge of straddling the fence between the autism community and the community at large, often feeling as if they don’t quite fit in with either. The term high functioning autism, or HFA, is used to describe individuals who meet the criteria for a diagnosis of autism, yet show no cognitive delays, and are able to speak, read, and write, as well as have IQ scores of average or above.
High Functioning Autistic Adults in the Mainstream
Those with HFA may have difficulties with understanding other’s perspectives, communication, language, and social interaction typical of autism, as well as displaying repetitive behaviors and highly focused interests associated with the disorder. Abstract language concepts, such as irony and humor, may be beyond the comprehension of adults with high functioning autism. Many adults with high functioning autism are able to build successful and independent lives. Many find their niche in society quite nicely, have satisfying careers, successful marriages, fulfilling friendships, and active social lives. To the average person, untrained in the subtleties of autism, these high functioning adults may not seem as if they have autism at all, sparing them the assumptions sometimes faced by those with more profound symptoms.
Others may have more difficulty establishing themselves, finding challenges in social awareness and communication create issues that can make independent living, connecting with others, and maintaining a steady job difficult. Adults with HFA may be misunderstood by those around them. Their lack of social awareness may be misconstrued as rude behavior. Behaviors such as an inability to maintain eye contact during conversation can make job interviews and establishing friendships difficult, as people may misinterpret these behaviors.
Steady employment can be challenging for some adults with high functioning autism. While workers with HFA are often extremely bright, focused, and talented employees, the social aspects of the workplace can be tricky. Workplace camaraderie can be unfamiliar territory for those with social interaction difficulties, and coworkers who are not aware of these difficulties may see them as odd, too serious, or aloof. However, many individuals with high functioning autism are able to connect with their coworkers and form meaningful relationships.
Many adults with high functioning autism face an uphill battle in establishing lasting personal relationships, facing the same misconceptions in personal friendships as in workplace ones. Actions that result from a lack of understanding of non-verbal cues, such as body language or facial expression, can leave others with inaccurate impressions of the individual. Children with autism are often bullied or become bullies, which may impact how these children grow and relate to others in a peer setting and eventually as adults.
Challenges Within the Autism Community
Autism awareness has risen dramatically over recent years, resulting in more information and resources available to address the needs of the autism community. Children with high functioning autism certainly benefit from these resources, with access to necessary intervention services from infancy through the schooling years. On the other hand, adults with autism do not have nearly as many resources as do children but in the past several years, more research and support has been dedicated to serving these adults.
Adults with HFA have higher incidences of comorbid depression compared to the general population. Although research is still examining the statistical range, it is estimated to impact up to 50 percent of those who have been diagnosed with autism. Affordable resources to address these symptoms are available and can be incredibly helpful for the individual. Therapists and counselors who specialize in assisting those with symptoms of autism and depression can make a huge positive impact on the individual’s life.
Dealing With Isolation
Adults with HFA are a minority among the autism community, making up just a small percentage of those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Since their numbers are so small in relation to the autism community as a whole, the resources and information relevant to adults with HFA can be much less prevalent than those geared towards children and adults with more severe symptoms of autism.
In addition, some adults with high functioning autism may feel their struggles are discounted by some in the autism community as being insignificant compared to the hardships faced by those with more profound symptoms. These factors and others combine to make many adults with HFA feel isolated from the autistic community, their concerns and struggles marginalized by the majority.
While autism research and management has improved by leaps and bounds over recent years, many of the difficulties faced every day by individuals with autism make it clear that much more work lies ahead. Although there may be hurdles to work through, adults with high functioning autism can certainly thrive in all areas of their life.