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High functioning autism, a subset of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to individuals who have average or above-average intellectual abilities. They can exhibit strong verbal skills and may demonstrate exceptional talents in certain academic or creative fields. 

However, the term can be misleading as it implies a mild form of autism with lower support needs, which overlooks the significant challenges these individuals face. 

Despite their cognitive strengths, they may still struggle with social interactions, emotional regulation, and sensory sensitivities,  presenting a complex profile that defies what we typically think of as autism.

Sensory Sensitivities

Children with high functioning autism often have unique sensory sensitivities, experiencing either heightened or reduced responses to sensory stimuli like sound, light, touch, taste, and smell. This can significantly impact their daily life, making common environments like malls, movie theaters, or restaurants overwhelming due to sensory overload.

The intensity of these environments can lead to discomfort, anxiety, or a need to avoid them entirely, which causes problems with social participation and routine activities.

Social Challenges

Social interaction presents notable challenges for children with high functioning autism. They often find it difficult to read social cues and understand body language, complicating the process of maintaining conversations. 

Challenges include grasping how to initiate interactions, recognizing the right moments to contribute to conversations, and modulating their speech’s tone and volume to suit different environments.

These difficulties can extend to forming and maintaining relationships, as misinterpretations or miscommunications in social interactions are common. Such challenges can lead to feelings of isolation and misunderstanding in social contexts.

Mental Health Struggles

These individuals also tend to be at a heightened risk for mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and stress. These conditions often stem from the challenges they face in daily life, such as difficulties in social interactions and heightened sensory sensitivities.

Navigating a world that is not always accommodating to their needs can lead to ongoing stress and anxiety. Moreover, the frustration and isolation that can result from difficulty in forming social connections may contribute to depression. It’s important to recognize and address these mental health concerns as part of their overall care.

Emotional Regulation

Many children with high functioning autism experience intense emotional reactions or struggle to express their emotions appropriately. This difficulty often extends to understanding and expressing their own emotions, as well as interpreting the emotions of others.

The challenge in emotional regulation can lead to misunderstandings in social interactions and internal stress, as they may not always respond in ways that align with societal expectations or personal intentions.

Communication Difficulties

Though many children with high functioning autism have strong verbal skills, they may still struggle with the more nuanced aspects of communication. This includes interpreting tone, understanding sarcasm, and grasping non-literal language.

This difficulty in picking up on these subtle cues can result in awkward or inappropriate responses, making social interactions challenging and sometimes stressful.

With these challenges, it’s important to explore some supportive interventions like social skills training, occupational therapy focused on sensory sensitivities, and speech therapy. These therapies can address the unique challenges these individuals face, and significantly enhance their ability to navigate daily life and improve overall well-being.

West Hills Academy is dedicated to students with average to above-average IQs who struggle with the everyday challenges of the traditional school setting. They create an individual and flexible plan for each child, to meet their unique needs and help them realize their full potential. For more information, reach out here.


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