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.
I am having a conversation where I am telling a story. I have an image in my head but for the life of me, I can’t think of what the image is called. The word doesn’t pull up. I describe the image I see so clearly in my mind. It only adds to my frustration level when my brain pops the word up long after the conversation. Granted, this surely happens to most people, but in my life on the spectrum, it is the “norm” instead of the exception.
Asperger’s affects every aspect of my life. It goes beyond the challenge of socializing with my fellow man. Such as when, where, and how I eat. I dine alone in my bedroom. My meal schedule is way off the charts from a typical schedule of like 7 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. I even fix a sandwich or slice a pizza in my own peculiar way and eat items on my plate in a specific order.
Repetitive movement is as essential as water and air. I pace the floor when agitated and I do the same when excited. I rock in a chair that isn’t a rocking chair. I bobble my knees without thinking about it. I have some of my best conversations doing the “self-talk”.
Fine motor skills have to do with the small stuff when it comes to movement. My handwriting bears a strong resemblance to chicken scratch. I dread chores where I have to pick up objects between my thumb and finger. Such as pierced earrings. As hard as I try to hang on to the earring or “back”, it happens without fail of one landing on the floor. Trying to find a tiny earring or the backs to them, is like looking for a needle in a haystack. To compensate, I buy a pack of cheap earrings at a dollar store just to replace the missing “backs” in hiding.
Of all the symptoms I deal with living on the Spectrum, the meltdowns are the toughest. They are the volcanoes. Sometimes they come upon me without any warning. I may or may not know what the trigger was. A trigger can be a sound or smell that raises tension in my body. It may be a pet peeve and I overreact to it. If I can walk away from the trigger, the odds improve of meltdown relief. If I can’t, I will erupt with rocking and tears.
I ask you to picture a long drawn line representing the Autism Spectrum (AS). On one end are those who have yet to say their first word, whether they be 6 years old or 46. Those who can’t take care of themselves. They have learning disabilities as well as social challenges.
My day job is subbing as a teacher’s aide. I’m familiar with autism units. One of the students I’ve known since he was in Pre-K and he is now 7 years old. He is on the lower end of the AS long line. He has never uttered a single word. He constantly flaps with his hands, chews on his fingers, and can’t sit still for more than three minutes at max. But he is quite skilled in outsmarting the adults in the room when one is chasing after him in the classroom.
On the other end of this long line are like another one of the AS school students I’ve met. This student can tell me what day of the week Christmas of 2025 will be on. Some subjects are a challenge to him, but he is proficient beyond his peers in his areas of expertise.
If you met one person with Autism, you’ve met just one person.
Since I have Asperger’s and I am a female, I know firsthand how easy it was for me to be in the dark about it for most of my life. Even if I were growing up in the 2010’s when Asperger’s and Autism aren’t as foreign words as they were back in the 1960s, I still think I would fall under the radar.
Asperger’s in females is not undetectable, but it can be easily undetected. My opinion from being a female with Asperger’s and working in elementary school Autism units, females who have Asperger’s are more likely not to be detected as their male counterparts.
When I started working as a substitute teacher’s aide, it didn’t take me long to realize that the overwhelming majority of students in these classes are male. Their behaviors are usually more visible than the few female students there are.
As to the question of why are men more likely than women to have autistic traits, or receive a diagnosis of autism, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre who, along with PhD student Emily Ruzich, led the Cambridge/Channel 4 study. They found there’s a lot of research showing that testosterone changes brain development.
Males on average produce more testosterone than females, even when in the womb, and the data shows that children with autism on average have higher levels of the hormone than typically developing kids.
This backs up a 2009 study that looked into the prenatal testosterone levels of typical four-year-olds. “The higher the child’s prenatal testosterone, the more autistic traits they had,” says Professor Baron-Cohen.
These findings suggest the critical factor may be hormone levels rather than gender and could be pivotal to further understand the higher rates of autism diagnosis in men. But, as Professor Baron-Cohen points out, “It’s only one piece of the puzzle.” He adds: “The nature of science means one new finding opens up a hundred new questions.”
Wendy Lawson, author of “Build Your Own Life: A Self-Help Guide For Individuals With Asperger Syndrome” and a self-described autistic woman, believes girls on the spectrum may be underdiagnosed because if they have obsessive interests (often a feature of spectrum disorders), these are more likely to be socially acceptable than the obsessions of boys with autism. Girls, she says, might get into reading or animals, which seem normal, “so people don’t pick up on our social difficulties.”
Jennifer McIlwee Myers, who has Asperger’s and is the author of “How to Teach Life Skills to Kids with Autism or Asperger’s,” concurs. She says boys on the spectrum are more likely to respond to their difficulties with anger and aggression, while girls are more likely to “deal with issues quietly,” cultivating extreme “niceness” and imitating other girls’ behavior. Boys who have the vision problems that sometimes go with Autism Spectrum Disorders may hit other boys, she explains, while girls might instead cling to other girls. And a boy who attacks other kids is going to get intervention a lot faster than a girl who cries quietly every day. Myers says there are “a lot of invisible girls” who are Autistic but never get help because nobody notices.
I personally didn’t realize how I try to act like other people until I learned I was on the Spectrum. I act “normal” to avoid making people mad and not being singled out as different. When I have been caught in my quirky behavior, the odd stares peeled at me are immensely painful. Females on the Autism Spectrum may just be better at imitating neurotypicals than our male counterparts. And that imitation makes us invisible.
Someone asked this question on a question/answer website. The following are ones that came to mind…
Autism? Really? Well, you should fix your brain.
Get Real! You don’t walk around in circles like my neighbor’s kid.
You look so normal to me.
Could you just be a tad introverted?
Everybody’s got something on their plate. (That’s true but telling me that is like giving me a lukewarm, instead of a cold rag for my raging fever. It’s lame on comfort.)
BUT you can talk! My brother’s wife’s cousin’s sister’s kid who has autism can’t say a word.
Quite frankly, I think you use autism as an excuse to get out of getting out.
Stop being so sensitive! (that statement will triple my sensitivity)
Why don’t you just call instead of e-mail them?
Autism is so over-diagnosed these days, don’t you think?
How can you be so sure that you are on the Spectrum? So you are a routine stickler, rock some, talk to yourself, like to be left alone, so what? Everyone does stuff like that.
I hope it isn’t contagious.
My personal list of what’s good and not so good of having an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Hearing someone say “But you seem so normal to me.”
- Sitting in an audience with no graceful exit out
- Can’t focus long enough to read a page without my mind drifting off thinking about anything and everything other than what is on the page
- The frustration and panic of being given a string of verbal instructions — “draw me a picture, will ya?”
- Desperately wanting time alone but not getting it soon enough to avert a meltdown.
- Social misfit
But don’t forget those awesome advantages:
- Finding THE skill that I can master as if I was born to do it
- Creative and open-minded
- Dependable (a clear list of written instructions, rules, schedules are welcomed)
- Organized to a tee
An engineer gave his pro and con of ASD in a nutshell: High IQ and social ineptness. It is a trade-off. Being an engineer is not too bad… 🙂
Well, being a substitute teacher’s aide where I get to hang out with many like myself is not too bad either.
My obsession with electronics has recently broadened to electric scooters. I used to have a thing for “vacuums” to the point that my apartment resembled a used vac store. Well, now it is scooters. Within a couple of months after coming down with this obsession, I have five scooters. Just call me a scooter-bug.
The first member of my scooter herd was a Segway mini-transporter that I nicknamed “Seggie”.
My second was a different breed than my Seggie. It belonged to the “glider” branch of electric scooters (a pink GoTrax scooter) that I appropriately nicknamed “Pinkie”. I wanted to have two that were different breeds.
My Pinkie broke down shortly after I bought her and the company was kind to send me a replacement. In the meantime, not knowing Pinkie would be replaced, I got a Razor scooter nicknamed “Raz”. So I didn’t intend to have three, but I quickly got used to the idea.
Then, Raz’s chain stopped me in my tracks. While it lay in the garage going nowhere, not knowing if it could be repaired, I went ahead and got Seggie’s little brother, a mini-Seggie, that I nicknamed “Lil’ Seggie”.
Then, Amazon Inc. had its annual BIG sale for its prime members. The sale was almost a full two days worth. I succumbed on the second day purchasing a hoverboard at a sale price I didn’t think I would see again until maybe next year.
The hoverboard (nicknamed Hovert) is the most challenging of them all to tame. On my first ride, I fell off of it within 60 seconds. Well, twice. I wondered at times if it would be UNtameable. My playmates, grandniece and nephew, avoided Hovert like the plague. I saw on Amazon it had an accessory that could turn Hovert into a go-cart. Although, I was slowly but surely taming Hovert, I purchased the accessory thinking I could get more use of Hovert by it being a go-cart instead of hoverboard only.
My riding around on a scooter grants me far more attention than I want. Most especially with Seggie and Lil’ Seggie since in a town of 43,000 people, I may be the only owner of one. If I traveled downtown, I’d probably run into a fellow Segway scooter at a tourist spot. If I do cross paths with a fellow scooter, it is someone far younger than me. Hey, I never acted my age anyway. When I was 10, I was going on 40. Now I’m near 60 and I’m heading back to 10.
Maybe it is wishful thinking but I think these scooters are helping to improve my balance skills. A lack of fine or gross motor skills is one of those ASD traits. I’m not absolutely sure about that. It took weeks before my swollen big toe looked like it did before Pinkie fell on it. One of my thumbs hasn’t been pain-free since Seggie fell for a curb and took me with him.
They have given my pride and joy, my four-set of wheels, “Toyota Prius”, some cosmetic changes (scratches in loading and unloading the scooters). So why in tarnation do I keep at scooting? There’s no middle ground with my ASD. When I become obsessed with something, the intensity can be stronger than even my long-held fear of the sensation of feeling the earth move under my feet.
I think I’ve completed my scooter family and plan no more family additions until…well, they start playing Christmas songs on the radio. But I wouldn’t place any bets on that.