Signs of High-Functioning Autism in Adults

Signs of High-Functioning Autism in Adults

Autism condition generally exists as a “spectrum.” More than 5.4 million adults in the United States have autism spectrum disorder. Everyone living with autism is unique from the next person living with this condition. Therefore, autism does not always manifest in the same way, even if two people are from the same family. Often, autism signs may not actually be recognized until adulthood. The life of a person living with mild signs of autism may not really be impacted much at all. Today, we call this particular autistic condition “high-functioning autism.”

What Is the High-Functioning Autism Condition?

High-functioning autism entails having a pattern of disordered traits that are consistent with an autism diagnosis but which still allow a person to function quite well in their daily activities. “High-functioning autism” is not an official medical term or diagnosis. Still, a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder or ASD is fundamentally made when there are at least two of four forms of repetitive and restricted behaviors and persistent deficits in all three areas of social interaction and communication exist as per the DSM-IV.

The DSM-V was later released in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association. Here, the previous classification of Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, and Autistic Disorder were replaced by a broader diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Diagnosis (ASD). Under this larger ASD spectrum, an individual previously diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder can now be perceived as having the “high-functioning autism” condition.  

Signs Of High-Functioning Autism in Adults

Individuals living with high-functioning autism may have, over a long time, developed a range of effective coping mechanisms that assist them in “covering” autism symptoms. This makes it much harder to determine the severity of their autism condition. They perceive their coping mechanisms and ASD traits and behaviors as normal aspects of their daily lives, especially when they were not diagnosed with autism as children by an ASD therapist. Check out some common signs of high-functioning autism in adults below!


  1. Sensory Processing Disorders.

Those with high-functioning autism experience sensory processing disorders and may find touching, smells, strong tastes, bright lights, crowds, and noise unbearable. However, this is often specific to each person. For instance, a texture that may feel soothing might not feel the same to another person with high-functioning autism. Excessive sensory input or “overload” is quite disruptive for those with this condition, so such individuals shun going to shopping malls, movies, restaurants, and concerts. They might end up experiencing social anxiety, full-blown meltdown, depression, or emotional distress.


  1. Having “Super Specific and Specialized” Interests.

Those with high-functioning autism usually have a strong interest in specific topics. They have a burning desire to know all they can about a particular topic(s). You might also find them watching their favorite movie or listening to a particular song countless times. This might not look like an issue as it can help them excel in the fields or activities they love.


  1. Executive Planning Problems

Executive functioning entails the skillful planning and organizing of daily activities, e.g., creating and sticking to timelines and schedules to complete projects. Most adults with high-functioning autism have challenges with executive functioning. This makes it quite difficult for them to cope with minor schedule tweaks at their workplace or school. It also makes it hard for them to effectively manage a household. Such individuals will therefore benefit massively from executive functioning coaching. An executive functioning coaching emphasizes stress management, better emotional reactivity, goal-setting and time management.


  1. Difficulty Regulating Emotions (Emotional Dysregulation).

Emotional regulation is an incredibly vital important aspect of our daily lives. It helps us to react to emotional disturbances in a composed manner. Those with high-functioning autism experience emotional dysregulation that can manifest itself through anxiety, depression, extreme mood swings and outbursts. This is incredibly detrimental to their social interactions because others might not be in a position to understand their behavior.


  1. Difficulty in Communication.

Autism Spectrum Diagnosis impacts the development of your social interaction skills because communicating with others effectively, especially verbally, is usually quite challenging. There are common signs that display challenges in communication for those with high-functioning autism;

  • Inability to read social cues and participate in conversations well.
  • Difficulty empathizing with others’ feelings and thoughts.
  • Challenges in reading people’s facial expressions and body language.
  • Inability to make and maintain eye contact.
  • Challenges in understanding specific metaphors and phrases.


  1. A Strong Focus on Restrictive Habits, Repetition, and Routines.

High-functioning autism goes hand-in-hand with an incredibly rigid fixation on repetition and routine. Individuals with this condition display a sense of a “dislike of change,” and routines allow them to stick to what they are familiar with to avoid depression or anxiety. Some common behaviors you can spot in such individuals include the following:

  • Brushing their teeth for an exact number of minutes daily
  • Having a particular meal every day at a specific time
  • Sleeping for a certain number of hours daily


  1. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ASD and ADHD have several overlapping symptoms. You can spot several ADHD signs in those with high-functioning autism, including impulsiveness, difficulty settling down (consistent fidgeting), etc. This is why an ASD therapist usually assesses for both conditions when you consult them. An ADHD therapist also does the same. The right ADHD therapist will help you build stronger coping techniques to eliminate disruptive traits like impulsiveness. A good ADHD therapist will also help you cultivate better social skills.

Causes of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

The exact causes of RSD are not yet fully understood. However, researchers believe that the condition may be linked to the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is involved in the reward system of the brain. Individuals with ADHD may have lower levels of dopamine, which can lead to difficulties in regulating emotions and responding to perceived threats.

Final Takeaway

It is indeed possible to live a “normal” life with high-functioning autism. Save for a few tiny differences in behavior and personality, life with Autistic Spectrum Disorder is similar to any other. If you have the disorder, you can live independently, start a family, and pursue your desired career. Your ability to limit social interactions and sensory information and control your surroundings will make work-from-home jobs and careers in data research and analysis, arts, etc., particularly enjoyable. Seeing an ASD therapist and getting a diagnosis is recommended as it can help you understand yourself and others and teach you to manage your symptoms better.

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