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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's Syndrome

Diagnosing High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's Syndrome

Children with high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome may not be diagnosed as early as children with more severe forms of autism. That's because the symptoms aren't as noticeable. Symptoms may not become a problem until a child is in school. A diagnosis is based on the doctor's assessment of the child's symptoms in three areas:

  • Social interactions: symptoms such as lack of eye contact or an inability to understand another person's feelings
  • Verbal and non-verbal communication: symptoms such as not speaking or repeating a phrase over and over again
  • Interests in activities, objects, or specialized information: symptoms such as playing with only a part of a toy or being obsessed with a particular topic

The doctor may gather information about these areas by:

  • Conducting psychological testing
  • Establishing the history of the child's development
  • Interviewing parents and others who have frequent contact with the child
  • Observing the child's behavior
  • Requesting physical, neurological, developmental, or genetic testing
  • Seeking a speech and language assessment

In addition, the doctor may request tests to rule out other causes of the behavior, such as hearing problems.

Treating High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's Syndrome

High-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome can be treated with a variety of therapies. Behavioral training is the primary method used to help people with high-functioning autism overcome problems with social interaction. Here are therapies that are often used:

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a method of rewarding appropriate social behavior and communication skills. This method is based on the theory that rewarding behavior encourages it to continue.

Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) is a structured way of teaching communication and coping skills. The system uses the child's strengths in memorization and visual skills.

In addition, other treatments may be recommended based on the child's needs. These include:

  • Medications to treat obsessive behaviors, anxiety, inattention, hyperactivity, or depression
  • Physical or occupational therapy for assistance with motor skills
  • Speech and language therapy to help with communication and language development
  • Social skills therapy  to work on language and social issues in the context of a typical group interaction


Living With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's Syndrome

High-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome present ongoing challenges from childhood through adulthood.

In children: Young children may have problems at school in areas of behavior and communication. Because the focus in early grades is often on memorization of facts, they may do well academically.

In older children and teens: As children grow older, a lack of social skills and the presence of obsessive interests or behaviors may put the child in the position of being teased. Forming new friendships may become increasingly difficult.

In adults: It may be difficult to live independently as an adult. Work and personal relationships may be hard to establish and maintain.

WebMD Medical Reference

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