Autism is a neurological development disorder which is usually first marked by an inability to communicate normally or develop social interaction in childhood. Children with autistic traits may avoid eye contact or may not like being hugged or touched. The spectrum of autism ranges from the low functioning person who cannot speak at all and is unable to care for himself to the high functioning person who can speak and write very well, is considered a genius, but often has problems with social contact.
A form of high functioning autism is Asperger Syndrome, named for the Austrian scientist who first defined it. People with this disorder have an IQ greater than 85 and are usually able to care for themselves as adults. Although this disorder was first described in 1944, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) did not recognize it until 1994. As a result, many adults with this form of high functioning autism were not diagnosed as autistic children and have received little or no therapy for their problems.
According to the DSM, there are six criteria that may indicate Asperger Syndrome:
1. Qualitative impairment in social interaction; 2. The presence of restricted, repetitive and stereotyped behaviors and interests; 3. Significant impairment in important areas of functioning; 4. No significant delay in language; 5. No significant delay in cognitive development, self-help skills, or adaptive behaviors (other than social interaction); and, 6. The symptoms must not be better accounted for by another specific pervasive developmental disorder or schizophrenia.
People with Asperger Syndrome are often accepted as normal but with some quirks. They may be regarded as nerdy or aloof, may speak in a formal way and usually have one or two special interests that become part of an uninterruptible monologue. They can live productive, even brilliant, lives in areas that don’t demand interaction with many people – such as computer science, mathematics, and music.
High Functioning Autism
People with high functioning autism have an IQ of 75 or above. Although the spectrum of autism covers many possible traits, the problems with social interaction are nearly universal. The “high functioning” part of the label refers to the ability to develop into an independent person needing little assistance in life skills. The “autism” part brings with it difficulty in understanding non-verbal communication, a tendency to take words literally, sensory overload, a need for routine and order, repetitive movements and clumsiness.
The inability to read people and the sensory overload (not able to focus on only one thing in a complex environment) can result in frustration and acting out. Even though people with high functioning autism seem normal, they still need understanding and sometimes a little help.