Well, first, I’ll give you the Wikipedia definition:
High–functioning autism (HFA) is a term applied to people with autism who are deemed to be cognitively “higher functioning” (with an IQ of 70 or greater) than other people with autism.
Asperger Syndrome and HFA are often referred to as the same diagnosis. While they currently exist as two separate diagnoses, there is an ongoing debate about whether that is necessary. It is possible that, in the future, they may be combined into one category. In my opinion, I wouldn’t mind one bit if they were combined.
There is disagreement about how many people on the autism spectrum are on the high or low end of the spectrum. I tend to agree with the view that most people with autism are “somewhere in the middle”. That’s how I see myself anyway. Unfortunately, what media attention there is to autism goes to folks at the high and the low ends of the spectrum. Those who are unable to take care of themselves and the high functioning geniuses.
From working with special education students, some of whom have severe autism, I have seen first hand how it is extraordinarily difficult living on the lower end of the spectrum. Logic would suggest that people on the high end of the spectrum have it easy. After all, many of those with HFA are bright and may have impressive talents. But the reality is quite different.
For example, it wasn’t uncommon for my name to be on the honor roll. I graduated with honors. However, if I had been graded on social interaction, I would have flunked more than passed. I could count on one hand how many friends I had and I didn’t need all the five fingers to count. I wanted to be in the circle but yet I didn’t know how. It was easier to be the loner, doing the self-talk, and entertaining myself in my imaginary world. It still is and I just turned 60-years-old.
Here are just a few of the issues that get between people on the high end of the autism spectrum:
Those on the higher end have sensory dysfunctions as people in the middle or lower. An example a mild, moderate, or extreme sensitivity to noise, crowds, bright lights, strong tastes, smells, and touch. This is why I won’t walk into a crowded store unless I am needing to buy something really BAD! I mean really BAD! It partly explains why I avoid movie theatres. I don’t like crowds and it’s hard for me to sit still through a movie at home let alone in a public place. The other reason I avoid movie theatres is the movie prices.
What’s the difference between a simple greeting from someone from the opposite sex and a signal of romantic interest? How loud is too loud? When is okay to talk about your personal issues or interests? When is it important to stop doing what you enjoy in order to attend to another person’s needs? These are tough questions for anyone, but for those of us on the spectrum, it’s is overwhelming! I am a never-married woman who can’t even claim to having been a bridesmaid. Since learning I was on the spectrum two years ago, I have come to embrace my singleness now that I have an explanation as to why I am socially disabled.
Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders are more common among people with HFA than they are among the general population. It isn’t known whether autism causes mood disorders, or whether the disorders are the result of social rejection and frustration—but whatever their causes, mood disorders can be disabling in themselves. I know this all too well. Since being put on antidepressant medication, I am doing much better. The medication isn’t a cure, but I have experienced relief in my mood swings.
Take it from someone who lives on the spectrum, people with autism have plenty of emotions. In fact, I can be far too emotional in the wrong situations. I am like a cat with its tail caught because of a change in plans. I react like a robot up in arms going in circles screaming “panic alert” when my electric scooter’s tire goes flat. I can do a good many things that don’t come easy to others but ONLY when the situation is predictable.
Then, there is the awesome task of following verbal instructions. I deal with this at home and school. A teacher once asked me, “Get the phone.” I went to her landline phone even though I was scratching my head since I hadn’t heard it ring. Actually, she wanted me to get her cell phone and hand it to her. As you can imagine, this can cause any number of issues, ranging from serious problems with the police to inadvertent mistakes at work.
HFA is what it says. It is not an easy or simple thing to live with. For those caring for, employing, teaching, or working with people on the higher end of the spectrum, it’s important to remember that autism is autism.