Whether you are familiar with autism or not, it’s very likely that you know or have met someone who has autism spectrum disorder. When people think of autism, they often picture a child who cannot speak or care for themselves.
Of course, that is autism, but one thing that’s not as well known is that autism spectrum disorder has a very broad set of symptoms and characteristics.
There are also several different functioning levels of autism including mild, moderate, and severe. However, these levels also have a wide variety of symptoms that can be different for each person.
Now, your child’s doctor is looking out for any signs of severe autism by keeping an eye on their developmental progress. So if they are behind on walking, talking, and etc, those could be signs of autism.
However, when you have a child who is high functioning autistic, they can slip through the cracks because the signs may not be quite as obvious.
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What is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurological disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact. Autism also impacts the nervous system. Autism does NOT have a cure but can be treated with therapy to help reduce the symptoms.
What is High Functioning Autism?
High functioning autism describes one with autism without an intellectual disability. However, people with high functioning autism have deficits in certain areas including communication, emotion, recognition, expression, and social interaction.
Another common name for high functioning autism is mild autism or Asperger’s syndrome (named after the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger). Although term Asperger’s syndrome is no longer used as an official diagnosis.
Today, these people are diagnosed with either high functioning autism or autism level 1.
How Soon Can We See the Early Signs of Autism?
Most children start showing signs of autism between the ages of 12 months – 18 months. And many of them are diagnosed by 3 years old. However, some children do not get diagnosed that early and many go into adulthood without being diagnosed.
Not Classic Autism Symptoms
The biggest problem with high functioning autism is that many parents and even some doctors are not sure what to look for. This is mostly because high functioning autistics can often blend in and adapt to situations.
As I said, when you think of Autism you often picture a child who is nonverbal and rocking back and forth in a corner. However, there are definitely clear signs of high functioning autism. They are just not necessarily the classic autism symptoms that you hear about.
Our High Functioning Autism Family
Now I certainly am not a doctor or any type of healthcare professional so you may wonder how I can be such an “expert” on high functioning autism. And honestly, I have three really good reasons.
I have high functioning autism.
I spent my entire life struggling to know why I was so different from everyone else. I was born in the 90s and back then only boys seemed to have high functioning autism. In fact, my younger brother was diagnosed with high functioning autism as a small child.
The reason that girls are often overlooked is that girls mature faster than boys and they usually have a better ability to adapt to their situations and blend in.
However, once I had my first child and she started to have symptoms of autism, I was later tested and diagnosed with high functioning autism at 26 years old. Now as an adult I have had to learn more about how to handle my symptoms. Being diagnosed literally changed my life, but I really wish I had been diagnosed as a child so I could have received therapy and understanding.
My Daughter has Autism
My daughter began showing signs of autism around 2 years old and I had to fight to get her diagnosed. As I said, girls are often overlooked for high functioning autism and this leads to situations like mine where I was not diagnosed until I was an adult.
My Son has Autism
Lastly, my son started showing signs of high functioning autism at around 12 months old. He had major sensory issues and at that same time, my daughter and I had just been diagnosed. Getting him seen and diagnosed with high functioning autism was so much easier and I believe that was partly because he’s a boy and the signs are more classic with boys.
Since both of my children and I all have high functioning autism, I don’t really know anything else. My husband is the only one in our family that does not have autism. I honestly feel like I have to be an expert because of this and an advocate as well.
So if you are a parent who suspects that your child may have high functioning autism here are 15 warning signs to look for.
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1. Lack Of Eye Contact
One of the first signs of high functioning autism that healthcare providers look for is the lack of eye contact. This is defined as avoiding eye contact or having trouble maintaining eye contact.
Here are just a few reasons that people with autism have difficulty with eye contact:
- difficulty focusing
- social anxiety
- being unsure when to look at someone in the eyes
Although this is a common symptom of autism, not every autistic person has difficulty with eye contact.
2. Tip-toe Walking
Many children on the autism spectrum walk on their tip-toes and the most common reason is because of sensory issues. This could also be due to muscular problems that are also common with autism.
My daughter is the tip-toe walking princess. She is 8 years old and has been walking on her tip-toes since she was one year old. Unfortunately, she goes through a ton of shoes because of how walking on her tip-toes wears them out so quickly.
3. Lining Things Up
Have you noticed your child lining up similar toys or other objects? If so, it could be a sign of high functioning autism.
This is often an obsessive behavior or a child’s way of controlling and finding balance. Many children will line toys up but kids with high functioning autism do it the same way every time and can get very upset if it’s messed up.
Both of my children do this. In fact, my 4-year-old son has these magnetic tiles that he builds the same exact building over and over again.
4. Repetition In Language
Children with autism often repeat certain words, phrases or even noises that they hear even if they are not actually engaging in a conversation. This is called echolalia.
Echolalia is very common among children with autism because it is often used when they are anxious, happy, or even distressed to express themselves.
5. Difficulty with Social Interaction
Social interaction is very stressful for people with autism and those with high functioning autism are no exception. This is mostly because those of us on the spectrum don’t know how to appropriately interact and have social anxiety.
I myself cannot be in a group full of people because I have so many thoughts running through my mind. Whether it’s at the grocery store, my child’s pediatrician’s office, or even outside I get overwhelmed. This is one huge reason that I work from home.
My children also have difficulties with social interaction. One of my children has no sense of social boundaries and things go right over her head, while my other child has difficulty playing with other children his age. He will often watch other kids play but will not play with them.
6. Specific Intense Interests
People with high functioning autism often become intensely obsessed with a specific interest or idea. So if your child is like mine and has to have everything Paw Patrol at every minute of the day, this may be a sign of high functioning autism.
Now, I know that all children have their particular interests that they may seem obsessed with but what I am talking about is the need to focus all of their energy on that one topic.
Or for example, my son watches the same Paw Patrol episode over and over again. He doesn’t want anything else and if Paw Patrol is not available, you’d think he was self-destructing.
7. Very Obsessive
Children with high functioning autism are commonly obsessive. I am talking about if you mess with that one toy that you believe is in the middle of the floor, you will wreck their world kind of obsessive.
Being obsessive is one huge symptom that I have had my entire life and it’s a feeling of trying to control everything in an uncertain world. I often will obsessive over one task and put all of my energy into it. This is sometimes ok, however, it can get out of hand if what I am trying to accomplish is not met.
8. Very Controlling
As I said children with high functioning autism can be very controlling of their surroundings.
This is mostly because having control gives them peace of mind. It also allows them to know exactly what to expect which makes everyday predictable and less frightening.
9. Difficulty Relating To Children Their Own Age
Of course, many children may feel like they don’t fit in with children their own age but there are a few differences with children that have high functioning autism. Like my son, many children with high functioning autism will not engage in play with others and are not sure how to respond to other children.
My daughter, on the other hand, will watch other children and then play but has a hard time knowing when it’s appropriate to say certain things or how to respect other’s personal space.
What is stimming? Stimming is short for “self-stimulatory behavior”. Stimming is often a way for people on the autism spectrum to have sensory input or to relieve any sensory overload they may have. Some common examples of stimming include:
- hand or arm flapping
- snapping fingers
- excessive blinking
- head banging
- spinning objects
- vocal stimming (humming, yelling, mouth sounds, or repetitive words)
11. Sensory Seeking
Sensory seeking is often a way that a person with autism fulfills their need for sensory input. One way that autistic people accomplish this by “stimming.” A few other ways that autistic children seek sensory input is by:
- jumping on and off furniture
- dumping bins of toys
- rubbing against walls
- rough play
- making loud noises including turning on music
- seeking bright lights (TVs, shiny objects, sunlight, strobe lights)
- bear hugs
- chewing on objects or clothing
12. Negative Reactions to Certain Sounds, Smells, Textures
One of the biggest signs that I hear of high functioning autism is when your child has negative reactions to certain sounds, smells or textures.
So for sounds, if your child has a very difficult time with loud noises or needs everything to be very loud this is common for autistic children.
And if your child is bothered by smells to a point where it seems unbearable. (I cannot stand going down the laundry detergent aisle and it literally makes me sick).
Lastly, if your child only likes certain textures and can not handle other textures, this is a possible sign of high functioning autism. My children and I have several texture issues especially when it comes to foods.
13. Needing Everything to Go a Certain Way
This symptom comes back to having control over their surroundings. When an autistic child’s routine is disrupted the world can become frightening and not knowing what comes next can lead to a meltdown.
I am 27 years old and as an autistic person, I still cannot handle when my routine is disrupted.
14. Emotionally Sensitive
Do you feel like your child is overly sensitive to things that may not be a big deal? This is my daughter. She is either very happy or very sad or angry. She gets sad or angry over what seems like a small thing, but to her, it’s not.
If this sounds like your child definitely talk with your pediatrician to avoid the emotions getting worse. I say this because I spent my whole life up until I was diagnosed having emotions that I could not control and feeling like something was wrong with me.
I suffered from depression and it wasn’t until I got diagnosed with high functioning autism that I learned that I was just wired differently. However, since I didn’t have the proper therapy as an autistic child, I now have major depressive disorder and still have a difficult time with my emotions.
15. Sleeping Issues
Is your child having difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep? This is super common among autistic children and adults. There are several reasons that people with autism have problems with sleep. Here are a few:
- sensory issues
- racing thoughts
- lack of melatonin
- 10 Lifesaving Tips for Helping Your Child with Autism Sleep Through the Night
- Can a Weighted Blanket Help My Child with Autism Sleep?
Many parents are often terrified of having a child who is autistic, but let me tell you. I don’t know any different. Both of my children are high functioning autistic just like me and I couldn’t imagine it any different.
However, if you suspect that your child may have high functioning autism and they have some of these symptoms talk with your child’s doctor and do not self diagnose. I truly hope this helps other families who are just not as familiar with high functioning autism and how it may look.