Ten Facts about High-Functioning Autism in Adults

  1. High-functioning autism (which formerly was referred to as “Asperger’s”), entered the DSM (the Bible of the mental health professions) only in 1994. The lack of diagnostic criteria prevented the possibility of diagnosis prior to the 1990s. As a result, most of the adult population with high-functioning autism remain undiagnosed.
  2. Autism is a developmental neuro-biological disorder. Today it is believed that the origin of most cases of autism is genetic. Since the 1990s, there has been a constant rise in the number of individuals diagnosed with autism. This can be mainly attributed to the changes in the diagnostic criteria and the inclusion of high-functioning autism in the DSM. This rise does not necessarily reflect a real rise in the number of individuals with autism. Many experts believe that people with high-functioning autism have always been part of the human population. It’s just that the health system did know how to recognize and diagnose them in the past.
  3. Neuro-developmental disorders tend to occur together. Hence, 70% of the individuals with autism suffer from at least one additional disorder. The comorbid disorders that most frequently affect people with autism are: ADD, ADHD, OCD, depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Many health care professionals are skilled in diagnosing these comorbid disorders. However, even today, high-functioning autism, which is the main disorder in these cases, is likely to remain undiagnosed, since it is a very complex disorder and most health care professionals lack the knowledge and the expertise to diagnose it, especially in adults.
  4. At present, there is still no available cure for autism. Children on the autism spectrum grow to be adults on the autism spectrum and when a child is diagnosed with autism, there is a high probability that more children in the family will be diagnosed with autism as well. It is estimated that every child newly diagnosed with autism is surrounded by at least 4-5 undiagnosed adults with high-functioning autism.
  5. People with high-functioning autism look like typically developing people. Therefore, autism is a hidden disability.
  6. Distinguishing features of autism that are prominent in early childhood and are less prominent in adults. People with high-functioning autism learn over time to hide their difficulties and use compensatory strategies which facilitate their social integration. The social mask they wear makes the diagnostic process in adults very difficult.
  7. People with high-functioning autism have IQs that are at least average. Many have IQs that are far higher than average. Some are geniuses. Others just sound very intelligent because they are very knowledgeable about a specific topic of interest or because of a special talent they possess. They are often gifted in unique areas of expertise, while showing inadequacy in other areas, those that usually involve basic skills that most typically developing people perform intuitively.
  8. Unlike it is commonly believed, many individuals with high-functioning autism live independent lives, many, if not most, successfully graduate academic studies and most of them are interested in forming social and intimate relationships. Many people with high-functioning autism are employed, develop successful careers, get married and have children.
  9. Formal data has shown a gender ratio of 1:4 between men and women on the autism spectrum. Namely, there is one woman diagnosed for every four men. This data suggests that in general, autism disorder is gender biased and is more common in males. It is unclear if autism is even more masked in women than in men, accounting for a higher diagnosis among men than women.
  10. People with autism do not resemble one another, just like typically developing people are different from each other. On the one hand, they can be very quiet and introverted, while on the other hand they can be very verbal and extroverted. In addition, autistic features affect individuals differently and merge with unique character traits. Therefore, diagnosing high-functioning autism is an extremely complex procedure, especially in adults.

Dr. Pnina Arad

Consulting and Coaching


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *