22 Symptoms and Signs of High-Functioning Autism In Adults (2022)

High functioning autism is not actually an official medical diagnosis, nor is it an official medical term. This term is mostly used when talking about autism or autism spectrum disorder in general. Contrary to what most people think, this is not just found in children, signs of high-functioning autism in adults is also quite common.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be found in all ages, races, genders, ethnic groups, racial groups, and socioeconomic groups. Autism is generally characterized by communication and social challenges, and repetitive behaviors.

Related: The Relationship Between ADHD and ASD

What Does High Functioning Autism In Adults Mean?

It depends. If someone falls in Level 1 of ASD, then they are considered to be high functioning. However, sometimes it might be that someone’s behavioral attitudes might be Level 2, and their social capabilities turn out to be Level 1.

There are several factors that lead to an autistic person being labeled as high functioning, and some of the factors are as follows:

  • How they communicate with others.
  • How well they’re doing at their jobs and whether they are being able to sustain it or not.
  • How they handle themselves in social situations.
  • How they build and maintain their personal relationships.
  • How they try to mask or hide their autistic traits.

The bottom line is that the better a person is able to mingle in a neurotypical society, the higher functioning they will be. Due to this reason alone, many autistic people don’t get diagnosed until quite later in their lives.

22 Signs Of High-Functioning Autism In Adults

For the most part, autism is diagnosed in small children when they are toddlers. But if you are an adult, here are the symptoms of high-functioning autism in adults:

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Behavioral and emotional signs

  • You display repetitive behaviors and mannerisms.
  • You get ticked off when things are rearranged or moved from their ‘rightful place’.
  • You tend to speak or make noises where you’re supposed to be quiet.
  • You have a emotional outburst or breakdown whenever something unfortunate or unexpected happens.
  • You follow a strict and rigid routine everyday, and refuse to budge from it.
  • You find it hard to deal with your emotions and respond in unhealthy ways more often than not.
  • You react very badly if you have to make any sort of changes in your routine.

Communication difficulties

  • You find it challenging to understand social cues.
  • You struggle at building and sustaining friendships.
  • You feel intimidated at making eye contact while speaking to someone.
  • You talk a lot about a few specific topics that are close to your heart.
  • You find it hard to understand idioms and sarcasm.
  • You struggle with understanding facial expressions and body language.
  • You find it challenging to hold a conversation for a long time.
  • You prefer solitude most of the time, compared to socializing.
  • You speak in a flat, robotic and monotonous way, which makes it hard for other people to understand what you’re saying.
  • You speak in the same tone with everyone, be it your friends, family, colleagues and even strangers.

Other signs of high functioning autism

  • You consider yourself to be clumsy who has a hard time with coordination.
  • You are often regarded as quirky and eccentric.
  • You are hypersensitive to sensory input like pain, sound, light, touch or smell.
  • You are extremely intelligent and knowledgeable about certain specific interests of yours, such as, mathematics, history, books, politics, sports etc.
  • You want to do things for yourself most of the time, instead of for others.

These are some of the most common traits of high functioning autism in adults, and being aware of these signs can help you understand all of this better.

Related: 23 Alarming Red Flags Of Sensory Issues In Kids That Most Parents Miss

How To Diagnose High Functioning Autism In Adults?

The ideal way of diagnosing autism is by going to a psychologist who has specialized training in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and who will give you a thorough and specialized evaluation. Some of the most common methods of diagnosing autism are as follows:

1. The Autism Spectrum Rating Scale (ASRS)

ASRS optimizes observational data from parents, guardians, and teachers to deduce whether the concerned individual fulfills the diagnostic criteria for autism. This scale is normally used for individuals falling in the age group of one and a half and 18 years old.

2. The Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised (ADI-R)

ADI-R is a thorough interview that aims towards evaluating, and assessing high autism symptoms in children aged 4 years and older.

3. The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)

ADOS is regarded as the best method or tool for diagnosing high functioning autism symptoms in adults. It involves a standardized assessment of a child’s imaginative abilities and plays, and a person’s social interactions to deduce whether they meet the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder.

Even though there are certain sections that are designed to diagnose autism in children, these can also be used in evaluating signs of high-functioning autism in adults.

(Video) Comprehensive List of Symptoms of High-Functioning Autism

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Treatment Of High Functioning Autism In Adults

Adults suffering from high autism symptoms are normally not taken as seriously as autistic children are, nor do they always get the support they need to deal with this. High functioning autistic adults can be treated effectively with the help of applied behavioral therapy, verbal therapy, and cognitive therapy.

Additionally, you can seek out the appropriate treatment for yourself based on high functioning autism symptoms you exhibit, e.g., career issues, relationship problems, anxiety, social phobia, emotional meltdowns, etc.

Here are a few more options that might help you deal with this in a more effective way:

1. Vocational rehabilitation.

Vocational rehabilitation can help you tremendously with challenges and obstacles you are facing in your career due to high autism symptoms. It can help you explore more options such as further studies, job changes and even volunteering opportunities.

Many autistic people tend to have a hard time in their workplaces if there’s too much noise, sound, bright lights, long commutes, and overwhelming stress. Employers can put in more effort to make their workplaces more neurodiverse so that autistic people can work to their fullest potential and thrive.

2. Educating yourself about autism.

The more you educate yourself about autism, the better you will be able to cope with it. Moreover, your loved ones will also know what to do to help you feel better. Learning more about your condition will help you understand it better.

(Video) What is High Functioning Autism? | Kati Morton

It can help you feel more secure. confident, and validated, and drive you towards finding the right tools that will work for you.

Related: Can Autistic People Make Great Social Partners?

3. Getting in touch with fellow autistic people.

Socializing and interacting with other autistic people can help you feel less isolated from others because they are in the same boat as you. Maybe you can go to a support group, or opt for online forums and chat groups. Mingling with other autistic people can expose you to more resources and can also help you understand yourself better.

4. Therapy

Therapy and counseling can help you a lot if you are showing signs and symptoms of high functioning autism in adults. Therapists can guide you through the entire thing, and help you explore various kinds of therapies including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Therapy can help you deal with your anxiety, rigid and inflexible thinking, social isolation, and personal challenges that you might be experiencing in your life.

Related: Is It Still Gaslighting If My Partner Has Asperger’s?


For adults who show high functioning autism symptoms, getting diagnosed can bring about a huge amount of relief, clarity, and understanding. You can also utilize many resources that can help you deal with this condition in a much healthier and better way.

(Video) Adult Autism Assessment

If you suspect that you might have high functioning autism, the best thing to do is to get in touch with a psychologist, get tested, and follow the right treatment plan.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do I have high functioning autism?

If you display signs such as having a hard time with social interactions, having a rigid daily routine, not doing well with changes, finding it difficult to make and sustain friendships and too much social interaction causes you to shut down, then chances are you have high functioning autism.

Can someone with autism have a normal child?

Of course, yes. Autistic people can have normal children as long as they are ready, willing, and have the right skills to parent them.

(Video) A Day in the Life: Navigating autism into adulthood

What are the signs of autism in female adults?

Some of the major signs of autism in women are not responding to their names, finding it hard to listen or look at someone, blank or inappropriate facial expressions, the constant urge for being alone, and feeling uncomfortable with any form of physical touch.

22 Symptoms and Signs of High-Functioning Autism In Adults (1)


What are the 3 main characteristics of autism in adults? ›

Difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling. Trouble interpreting facial expressions, body language, or social cues. Difficulty regulating emotion. Trouble keeping up a conversation.

How do you deal with HFA? ›

High-functioning autism can be challenging for people with autism and those in their lives. Therapies such as speech-language therapy and social skills training can help people with HFA function more easily and effectively in daily life.

How does a high functioning autistic person act? ›

High-functioning autism is sometimes used colloquially to describe autistic people who do not need much support to function in their daily lives. It often means that a person can speak, write, read, manage daily tasks, and live independently.

What disorders are similar to high functioning autism? ›

The conditions listed below all exhibit similar behavioral symptoms to autism spectrum disorder. Behavioral treatments for these conditions overlap with those of autism.
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome.
  • Angelman Syndrome.
  • Rett Syndrome.
  • Tardive Dyskinesia.

How is high functioning autism treated in adults? ›

Treatment for adult high-functioning autism involves therapy, which helps people gain the skills and strategies needed to better manage the condition. Sometimes, drugs may be prescribed as part of an overall treatment plan. Seeking care may also lead to better access to services for people with autism.

How do adults get tested for autism? ›

For adults, this usually means an in-person visit where the doctor asks questions and evaluates how you respond. They will also consider self-reported symptoms. Many psychologists use the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2) , a diagnostic assessment when assessing adults.

What is borderline autism in adults? ›

What is borderline autism in adults? For the purposes of this article I will just say that borderline autism is really what it sounds like. It can be something as simple as having symptoms of autism spectrum disorder yet not meeting the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder.

How can you tell if someone is on the spectrum? ›

Other Characteristics
  1. Delayed language skills.
  2. Delayed movement skills.
  3. Delayed cognitive or learning skills.
  4. Hyperactive, impulsive, and/or inattentive behavior.
  5. Epilepsy or seizure disorder.
  6. Unusual eating and sleeping habits.
  7. Gastrointestinal issues (for example, constipation)
  8. Unusual mood or emotional reactions.

Is HFA a mental illness? ›

High-functioning autism (HFA) is an autism classification where a person exhibits no intellectual disability, but may exhibit deficits in communication, emotion recognition and expression, and social interaction.
High-functioning autism
Other namesSukhareva Syndrome
9 more rows

How do autistics manage their emotions? ›

Six steps to help children with autism manage their emotions
  1. Step 1: Make a visual aid to chart emotions. ...
  2. Step 2: Use pictures or phrases that describe each level. ...
  3. Step 3: Discuss appropriate emotions using examples. ...
  4. Step 4: Explain and demonstrate better coping. ...
  5. Step 5: Play the "what if" game.
12 Dec 2019

What are the main characteristics of HFA? ›

Signs and Symptoms of High Functioning Autism
  • Repetitiveness. HFA is partly characterized by anobsession with a particular subject or activity. ...
  • Emotional sensitivity. ...
  • Social problems. ...
  • Language peculiarities. ...
  • Sensory difficulties. ...
  • Little or no attention to caregivers.
8 Oct 2019

Can you physically tell if someone has autism? ›

Individuals with autism often have a number of unusual physical characteristics, called dysmorphologies, such as wide-set eyes or broad foreheads. Dysmorphic features may mark a subgroup of individuals who have autism with a distinct underlying genetic cause.

Can high functioning autism go undiagnosed? ›

Many individuals with high-functioning autism are diagnosed later in life. Their autism often goes unnoticed due to average or higher than average intellect. Furthermore, in order to fit in many individuals with autism work very hard to mask or hide their autistic traits.

What is the difference between autism and high functioning autism? ›

Autism is a developmental disability. High-functioning autism generally refers to autistic people who have significantly developed language and independent living skills. However, the term is problematic, and it is not a clinical diagnosis.

What is autism most commonly misdiagnosed as? ›

The following disorders share many of the same symptoms as autism, which may result in a misdiagnosis:
  • ADHD. ...
  • Avoidant personality disorder, social anxiety disorder, shyness. ...
  • OCD. ...
  • Schizophrenia spectrum disorders. ...
  • Eating disorders. ...
  • Personality disorders. ...
  • Mood disorders. ...
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
29 Apr 2022

What goes hand in hand with autism? ›

A range of physical and mental-health conditions frequently accompany autism. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) problems.
  • Epilepsy.
  • Feeding issues.
  • Disrupted sleep.
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

What is a high functioning autistic person called? ›

ASD is divided into three levels: Level 1. People at this level may have symptoms that don't interfere too much with their work, school, or relationships. This is what most people are referring to when they use the terms high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome.

What is the best medicine for autism in adults? ›

Antipsychotics. Some newer antipsychotic medications may help with aggression, self-harm, and behavioral problems in both children and adults with autism. The FDA recently approved the use of risperidone (Risperdal) and apripiprazole (Abilify) to treat symptoms of autism.

What is the best therapy for high functioning autism? ›

A notable treatment approach for children on the autism spectrum is called applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA has become widely accepted among doctors and used in many schools and treatment clinics. ABA encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative behaviors in order to improve a variety of skills.

Can you self diagnose autism in adults? ›

The only way to know for sure whether you are autistic is to get a formal diagnosis.

How do I know if I have autism or ADHD? ›

Although 2019 research suggests some symptoms of ADHD and ASD overlap, there are distinct differences. A person with ADHD may have attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity challenges. But an autistic individual may have difficulties with communication, social interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviors.

Can you develop autism as you get older? ›

Age Limit for Autism Development

Older children, teens, and adults do not develop autism. In fact, to qualify for an autism spectrum diagnosis, you must have symptoms that appear during early childhood (i.e., before age 3).

Can anxiety be mistaken for autism? ›

Autism and anxiety can have similar symptoms, such as difficulties in social situations and with routine changes. Still, they are separate, though often co-occurring, conditions. Autism is neurodevelopmental, while anxiety is a mental health condition.

Can trauma cause autism in adults? ›

Autism is a genetic neurodevelopmental disorder that is not caused by childhood trauma or abuse.

What causes irritability in autism? ›

Your child may not be able to properly communicate what they are feeling or thinking. This can lead to frustration and irritability, which in turn can lead to aggression or self-harming behavior.

How do you know if an adults has Asperger's syndrome? ›

You may have a hard time reacting to actions, words, and behaviors with empathy or concern. Exaggerated emotional response. While not always intentional, adults with AS may struggle to cope with emotional situations, feelings of frustration, or changes in pattern. This may lead to emotional outbursts.

Can you have autism without knowing? ›

Many people do not recognize the signs of autism until adulthood. And, even then, it's often mistaken for ADHD or another comorbidity.

Am I on the spectrum or just anxiety? ›

People with social anxiety have an intense fear of social situations, often fearing others' judgment. People with autism often have difficulty reading social cues. Interventions can include social skills training, occupational therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

What mental illnesses are comorbid with autism? ›

Individuals with ASD also experience greater rates of other mental health challenges, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and substance abuse. These comorbidities, as well unique factors associated with autism, are believed to contribute to greater suicide risk in the population with ASD.

Does autism cause emotional outbursts? ›

Individuals with autism spectrum disorders have deficits in communication, social interactions, and emotional regulation and exhibit repetitive behaviors. These individuals can become very reactive to their environment and at times may engage in emotional outbursts.

What is the difference between HFA and Aspergers? ›

Asperger's is more noticeable in boys. High-Functioning Autism specifically applies to children with autism who have an IQ of 70 or higher and exhibit milder symptoms. For example, these children exhibit fewer language delays, few to no cognitive deficits, and better spatial skills.

Can autism cause anger issues? ›

Adults diagnosed with autism disorders are prone to anger outbursts. An 'on-off' quality where individuals may be calm one second and in a rage the next is common. Family members and significant others may grow resentful over time due to misunderstanding this behavior.

Does autism make it hard to control emotions? ›

Sometimes, people with autism have a harder time regulating their emotions. They may rely on unique self-soothing strategies to deal with intense emotions, and either seek out or avoid sensory stimuli like bright lights, loud sounds and intense smells.

How do you calm an autistic person down? ›

Strategies to consider include distraction, diversion, helping the person use calming strategies such as fiddle toys or listening to music, removing any potential triggers, and staying calm yourself.

How do I know if I am high-functioning autism? ›

High-functioning autism means that a person is able to read, write, speak, and handle daily tasks, such as eating and getting dressed independently. Despite having symptoms of autism, their behavior doesn't interfere too much with their work, school, or, relationships.

Is immaturity a symptom of autism? ›

Emotional Immaturity

Meltdowns are relatively common even among people with very high-functioning autism. They can be the result of sensory overload, anxiety (which is common among people with autism), or frustration.

What does eye Stimming mean? ›

Visual stimming is one of the self-stimulatory behaviours that children with autism often present with. It may include repetitive behaviours such as: Staring or gazing at objects, such as ceiling fans or lights. Repetitive blinking or turning lights on and off. Moving fingers in front of the eyes.

What part of the body does autism affect? ›

Autism affects parts of the brain that control emotions, communication, and body movements. By the toddler years, some children with ASDs have unusually large heads and brains -- which may be because of problems with brain growth.

What is masking in autism? ›

Masking may involve supressing certain behaviours we find soothing but that others think are 'weird', such as stimming or intense interests. It can also mean mimicking the behaviour of those around us, such as copying non-verbal behaviours, and developing complex social scripts to get by in social situations.

What are the symptoms of high functioning autism in adults? ›

Common signs of autism in adults include:
  • finding it hard to understand what others are thinking or feeling.
  • getting very anxious about social situations.
  • finding it hard to make friends or preferring to be on your own.
  • seeming blunt, rude or not interested in others without meaning to.
  • finding it hard to say how you feel.

Is high functioning autism considered special needs? ›

If a school aged student is diagnosed with high functioning Autism or Asperger's Syndrome (hereinafter referred to collectively as “Asperger's”) and has special needs that rise to the level of requiring special education services, he or she would be classified and receive an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”).

What do adults with autism struggle with? ›

Common characteristics include: difficulties interpreting social rules and body language, which can lead to confusion or misunderstandings. difficulty in forming and maintaining friendships. a tendency to take things literally, which can lead to communication difficulties.

Can someone have high-functioning autism and not know it? ›

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is typically diagnosed in toddlerhood or early childhood,1 but it is possible for clinicians and parents to miss or overlook the symptoms of high-functioning autism (HFA), in particular, until late childhood, adolescence, or even adulthood.

What is the difference between autism and high-functioning autism? ›

Autism is a developmental disability. High-functioning autism generally refers to autistic people who have significantly developed language and independent living skills. However, the term is problematic, and it is not a clinical diagnosis.

What is high-functioning autism called now? ›

As of 2013, Asperger Syndrome and High-functioning autism are no longer terms used by the American Psychological Association, and have instead both been merged into autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What causes an autistic meltdown in adults? ›

Meltdowns tend to be triggered by sensory overload, communication issues, and/or social situations. People who experience meltdowns tend to describe them as a complete loss of control which, once they're able to reflect, was found to be triggered by a relatively minor stimulus.

Can an autistic person have empathy? ›

Every person living with autism is unique; some may struggle with empathy while others may feel completely overwhelmed by other people's feelings, and then there is everyone in between. It seems that autistic expression of empathy may be atypical.

What is worse high functioning or low functioning autism? ›

Low-functioning autism aligns with level 3, or the most severe form. High-functioning autism aligns with level 1, or the most mild form. People with low-functioning autism exhibit behaviors that make it very hard for them to complete day-to-day tasks, like taking care of themselves or working.

Can you have autism and be social? ›

Some people on the autism spectrum may seek social opportunities and may initiate social interactions themselves, others may enjoy social situations and interactions when they are initiated effectively by others.


1. Autism Diagnosis in Adulthood
(SPARK for Autism)
2. Why are so many autistic adults undiagnosed? | Kip Chow | TEDxSFU
(TEDx Talks)
3. A Higher Functioning Form Of Autism | Cuan Weijer | TEDxDunLaoghaire
(TEDx Talks)
4. What Does Adult Autism Look Like?
(ADDitude Magazine)
5. Autism in Females Maya’s Story
(Demystifying Medicine McMaster)
6. What it’s like to live as an adult with autism | Your Morning
(CTV Your Morning)

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