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What are Symptoms of High Level Autism?

By Garry Crystal
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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People with high functioning or high level autism can function normally in society, but may have some of the symptoms of autism. The condition is often called Asperger's syndrome, although some experts disagree on whether the two are synonymous. Symptoms can vary from person to person.

According to the clinical definition of high level autism, the autistic can speak and act normally in everyday society, while people who suffer from severe autism are defined as being unable to do so. Research has shown that people with high functioning autism typically have an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 70 or above.

Social interaction problems are a symptom of all levels of autism. The high level autistic may appear serious and uncommunicative, although being this may only take the form of a lack of participation in small talk conversations. He or she may also have difficulty maintaining eye contact with others.

Individuals with high level autism tend to prefer routine and order. These symptoms may present themselves in early childhood. Personal relationships are often a problem, and affected individuals can sometimes be perceived by others as too geeky or intelligent. Rejection can lead to low self esteem.

Other symptoms may include irregularities with coordination and motor skills. These problems may be very low level and may only take the form of clumsiness in situations such as sports activities. Although the high level autistic may not express certain emotions, such as empathy, he or she is certainly capable of feeling them.

High level autistics may have advanced learning abilities. They are also often talented at problem solving, and many go on to careers in science and engineering. These people are often gifted academically and will do well if they have encouraging teachers. They are often extremely talented wordsmiths and have a great love of language. A passion for obscure subjects and an in-depth knowledge of these subjects can also be symptoms of high level autism.

It is unfortunate that many narrow-minded people simply dismiss the high level autistic as a nerd or boffin. People who are not aware of the problem can often make judgments without fully appreciating the situation. Autism is a complex disorder that affects about one person out of every 130.

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Discussion Comments
By anon941542 — On Mar 23, 2014

the whole concept of mental illness comes directly from religion and the concept of sin. It borrows Freud's technique of making the challenges harder and harder to prove you don't have it, so authorities are free to make associations about you to challenge your ignorance of your problem, but authorities can never have problems. The pentecostal churches had a big scandal over this abuse, and for that matter, so did the Soviet Union, when it used diagnosis and medication to suppress political dissent. We've been through race science, gender science, Nazi science, and now educational science, only used to separate people if they lowered test scores or any other form of cultural superiority.

Authorities don't have time to argue, so the law makes it so you give up due process rights at the school door. Once they dislike you, they need a label to suit their bigoted cultural lens, because only their authority can make valid, legal, scientific, factual associations between one thing and another, and its a conflict of interest because all of their contemporaries run the fields that could challenge this.

They spontaneously add new associations to the culture if anyone resists. Their cultural associations are made law, fact, and professional opinion by excessive thought policing and by manipulating scientific studies. ADD, autism, bipolar, etc. are deliberately made to pathologize people's choice to walk away or to dispute the pathologizing. A violation of due process rights that forces you to testify against yourself is a violation of human rights.

By anon924352 — On Jan 03, 2014

@anon337997: I am a 22 year old HFA diagnosed adult and I say that you are doing great with your child. When I was his age, I was exactly the same in school; I was acting like I had ADD. People didn't get that, and often criticized me for that.

Now that I'm older, I have outgrown most of my childhood issues and am pursuing my career. My parents, especially my mother, were very supportive in my development and during hard times still did everything possible to get me the help I needed.

If your son is very intelligent and gets called names, take it from me: I don’t let that bother me because I am smarter than they are.

By anon344377 — On Aug 09, 2013

I have Asperger's. I was diagnosed when I was a young child. Making friends and such was always a challenge growing up. I was always very socially awkward. My grades were always just fine.

I'm 25 now. After a couple years of getting social tips and pointers from friends, going out a lot, being willing to change, and immersing myself with people, I can say that I'm great with people.

I know what it's like to struggle to have friends. The best advice I can offer is to socialize as much as possible, and get advice/tips on how to better do so. It may take a long, long time before one finally gets it, but they will.

By anon337997 — On Jun 09, 2013

I am the parent of a 10 year old boy who was diagnosed when he was eight years old. I thought the doctor was going to say he had ADHD but she said it was also ASD. It was a horrible shock, although two years later, it seems more obvious. He is at grade level or above in all subjects, yet he stands out as socially awkward.

I can talk to him about something important and he changes the subject to a TV show or a video he saw on online, which I have no interest in and can't follow.

His eye contact is improving, yet I see other kids don't want to talk to him and he doesn't get the hint. He just sounds dumb when he speaks. What a terrible thing to say. I am hoping that some of the older people out there will say, "yes that was me when I was 10 but now I get it and I have found my way".

I worry about my sweet boy all the time. I also wonder if I am doing the right thing to try and keep him mainstreamed through middle school or if I should put him in a school with children with autism. I just keep thinking that he might be the highest functioning at a school for autism and I just don't want to put a label on him. Am I wrong?

By anon315286 — On Jan 23, 2013

My son is 19 and in his first year of college. I read an article about HFA and realized that my son is a textbook case. I don't know where to get him help. He wants to socialize, but struggles to make friends/keep friends. Is it too late to get him help?

By anon300567 — On Oct 30, 2012

I have Asperger's. Which is classified as a learning disability. I also have ADHD and Dyscalculia, which are often co-morbid with Autism. I am a classic case. Too many people are being misdiagnosed with Asperger's. I suspect most of the people above who have commented do not have Asperger's, since they apparently had no real problems learning or socialising at school. Just because they did well on IQ tests and have some sort of personality disorder, they think Asperger's is an excuse to be rude and brag.

Many parents push for a diagnosis too, so they can be part of some sort of new elitist Parents of Asperger's Kids club, that basically lets them off being crap parents and gives them an excuse for their children being arrogant brats.

Most people with genuine Asperger's do badly in IQ tests, not because they are low in intelligence, but IQ tests are extremely biased and also designed for healthy neurotypical brains. I have ADHD too, so focusing on anything when instructed is difficult at best. My mind wanders continuously during IQ tests, and I am constantly distracted by my over sensitive senses. I was put in a special class with mentally retarded children when I was a child. When I was 14, I scored 148 on an IQ test in high school and was put forward several years.

Years later on a day I was bored, I scored just 110, which is still pretty good when you consider all my learning disabilities and neurological disorders. A year later I scored 135, so it changes depending on how focused I am. Also, I hardly attended high school due to illness and depression, so I missed out on a lot of education.

By anon248579 — On Feb 17, 2012

I've had this article saved in my phone for a while, but I’ve been letting doctors keep playing with different bipolar manic and mood disorder diagnoses, and because I’m sick a lot my family calls me a hypochondriac for reading things like this.

This is the third time this week that, though I’ve been out of any school for months, I’ve typed out something of an essay for mainly myself. I've worked immensely on myself in the past few years, trying to figure out how to fix myself to be more like the rest, and am finally at a stage where I can call myself "normal," although I am still very unusual and that’s what makes me a person.

I was a hyper kid but not ADHD, and got straight A's all through school whenever I wasn't fooling around. I never did well with people, but there were always a few nice kids around who helped me through though and I've realized that, more often than not, they were using me. I was a very quiet kid after elementary school, and because there were others it was okay. I don’t purposely remember school much anymore now that I've finally graduated; the social aspect was always incredibly painful for me, especially when people called me smart.

Before I started high school, I had some kind of revelation that I could easily get on the right track and be committed to making straight A's, which I did until senior year when I was accepted into Honors College where I applied, in my home state where no one else in my school was going. My brother committed suicide when I was 16, and I made it through because my own suicidal thoughts, though present since 10, had been forced into dormancy, and I made myself grieve for a time, and remember.

I always knew I was closer mentally to my brother, also into engineering, and had a lot of respect for all of his choices. I had what I thought was a wonderful relationship with him, and was convinced that if I messed it up, because it was my responsibility to make it work, I would never have another and would have no chance at happiness.

I understand now I'm a pretty young blonde girl with many options and only my mind and mouth had hindered me, but until about senior year I was the ugliest, most untalented waste of life there was. At some point, I became aware of all the lies I had told myself through my life. In my senior year, while wondering if there was a point to my lies and working hard to gain self esteem, I got into pot and finally got away from the boyfriend, who had taken advantage of me physically since the day my brother died. I spent most of my senior year s a secret pothead, because I was perceived as innocent, and still managed to do fine in school.

My suicidal side came back some time in the summer and the boyfriend told me it was something to just get over. I held on because I was going to college in my absolute favorite city where my brother had lived, to go study – a new engineering major that no one understood -- until I had explained it five times. I graduated advanced, high, and went to Honors College sober, getting fine grades except for in a class I had not learned enough to be in. Halfway through the first semester of the happiest time in my life, after making more good friends than I had in my entire life, I took all the medicines they had prescribed me at once because, after starting Prozac and Klonopin for panic attacks, I felt like it was something I wanted to do. I knew they wouldn't kill me without alcohol, and I still can't honestly call it a suicide attempt. I told everyone I had only overdosed on Klonopin I had because I couldn’t stop a panic attack, which was actually true.

Two weeks later, trying to overdose on over-the-counter medicine proved I was lost, especially since I called 911 halfway through. My mom told me the dorm kicked me out. Even though they hadn't, I've been reaccepted and will be back soon. In the past year and a half I have learned most of the habits of my mind, and been on more pills than I ever want to get near again. I don’t know where my life is going because it is still unstable, but I help people wherever I can and don’t usually care when people take advantage of it.

I know at this point, that I'm off everything but anxiety medication, I am not depressed anymore, and being on different antidepressants has done very bad things to me. There’s not a thing in this article that doesn’t describe some aspect of me, and if I’m diagnosed autistic tomorrow I don’t see it being any different from being diagnosed bipolar tomorrow, other than a course of more of the same drugs that are not working on me. But I am ecstatic that I have this article saved away, and that I may have some defense from diagnoses where the only treatment is more pills.

By ChanDawn — On Jan 12, 2012

My son, who is seven, was recently labeled HFA or as having Aspergers. I have known this since he was four months old. That was the first time he laughed. Not a little baby giggle or cooing but a hearty-side splitting laugh. And it was over a visual perception. I took that as a sign of higher intelligence and something not quite par.

I have three other children who are much older and I am telling you that if this one had been born first I would have thought the others were slow. At 15 months, he had a grasp of time, e.g., days of the week, months of the year, and so on. At 18 months, he had an acute awareness of direction and location and at two years old, he had a vocabulary of about 2500 words. And he displayed symptoms of severe OCD.

I always thought that I would not want the label, but it was I who initiated the tests. He is in school now and K wasn't bad at all, although he hated it after the first week. First grade has already proven to be an issue. He still hates school. He has friends there and he behaves himself, and when he pays attention and applies himself he brings home A's. That's the problem: he has a teenage-know-it-all attention span and though the compulsions are not so obvious, he is still very obsessive and becoming more inattentive.

The point I am leading to is that the school already knows why his attitude and behavior is the way that it is. They know this because I had him labeled. People who have any type of diagnosed issue, mental or physical, are lucky to have the label. It makes it easier for the rest of the world to know how to approach problems.

By anon217281 — On Sep 24, 2011

Maybe they just give this label to smart people to confuse them.

By anon212344 — On Sep 06, 2011

I've a question for you genius out there. My son has been diagnosed with autism but lacks what people often refer to as autism. That is, he is social, very social. He and I joke and wrestle with each other. We play together and do a lot of social things. He says about 200 words and is 3.5 years old. He doesn't have any behavior problems and is very easy going. Now we are on EIBI with him and he has a tough time at all. Is this really autism?

By anon156383 — On Feb 26, 2011

I have none of the physical systems, and was recently diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.

According the the IQ test they gave me, my IQ is 141. (The test only goes up to 145.)

By anon156272 — On Feb 26, 2011

I don't know what the trouble with autism is - a few years back l was diagnosed with autism. Most of us are trying to live normal lives, and indeed many do.

Although l am a social reject, l finished high school and college- out of a class of 25 who graduated high school l was one of the few who "made it" and I was an average student. I have had a lot of problems in school, indeed my school labeled me "special" and made my life a living hell. When I went to uni in the UK. the same story started all over again, so much so that I didn't attend my graduation because I had such an awful experience.

Being autistic does not mean that you are lesser than. Parents who complain their kids aren't "normal" should remember that most autistic kids are generally not addicted to drugs, sex and other wastes of time. Yes they need guidance and a lot of discipline, but it is not all bad. To be honest, I see a lot of parents who are "concerned" about their autistic kids, but they do nothing to change their own behavior. Many push their kids away.

What has been successful - and I am a product of that - is good parenting and consistent parenting, but flexible too. I wasn't the best at school, but I had a lot of hobbies, had pets and did chores around the house and discussed things with my parents.

Good discourse helps - it helps alleviate the social rejection at school. And besides that, the socially successful generally aren't the ones who can focus, push themselves and do something with their lives.

By anon144432 — On Jan 19, 2011

The doctors said my son might have been autistic. I will never know, as he committed suicide when he was 14 years old. That was eight years ago.

At the age of four, he was able to read because his older brother had read him a book one time and he memorized it. He was also able to count and when I ask him how he learned to count, he said "I counted the pages of the book". As you can tell, he didn't get the intelligence from me.

At five years old he had an IQ of 147 and every year it climbed. When he passed away, his IQ was 168. He had many diagnoses throughout the years, but by the time the doctors thought they understood what was going on with him, he was gone.

Kids made fun of my son and so did adults. I don't think any of us really understood his thoughts or what he did. He social skills were poor at best. It really stinks when you can't heal someone you love.

People are cruel, kids and adults alike. I just hope that the percentage of people with the High Functioning Autism realize that people are cruel, but they really don't matter.

By anon138856 — On Jan 02, 2011

High level autism is far too complex to completely understand from this small article. Some don't even believe that it is an actual physical condition. Technically, people with this condition should have their brain rewired.

The part of the brain which is usually used for different functions, like social communication, are rewired for other functions like problem solving or memory. Usually though, most people with this condition are just smart people who have had less social exposure.

I am a more serious case of autism. I was tested and placed as having an IQ of 182 when i was seven. Placed in a 'special' school, and within five years i was also diagnosed with autism. Despite succeeding in basically everything i do, my form of autism hasn't been 'cured.' I function and was very popular in college. I'm still unable to meet eyes with strangers or even friends.

As for symptoms, they are so varied that almost anything could be a sign of autism. I certainly never had any physical difficulties. I played baseball and was a state champion wrestler in school. Autism is just a name, basically. It's an excuse. There is very little medicine for autism. I usually just say that i am shy.

Some answers are just for self satisfaction. This is one of them. Having high level autism won't change much in your life. Deal with it.

By anon92317 — On Jun 27, 2010

My son got diagnosed with autism a couple of weeks ago and they have said he has disease level 10 autism. what dose it mean?

By anon66486 — On Feb 20, 2010

Recently I have been noticing some gaps in memory and been wondering why. That's kind of what led me to this site and I'm wondering if maybe I fit into what would be considered a high level autistic.

when I was young my IQ tested somewhere in the 170-180 range but I had a strange, selective memory and very specific social problems. there were some things i simply would not remember. I have some pretty expansive gaps in my long term memory as well as other more unique memory problems. To this day, I can't always accurately say the 12 months in order, not sure why. aside from that one instance, there are several others I can't recall off the top of my head.

As far as social skills go, I wasn't a total recluse but I definitely was different on a social level than most kids my age. eye contact was one of the problems. another was that I would never try to initiate a conversation with anyone else the way most young kids do. physically, I'm not sure i would call it uncoordinated, since i skateboarded and played sports fine for the most part, but there were some moments when something routine wouldn't work and i would end up with stitches or a cast. i was known for being accident prone.

i also had a tendency to stumble over words, or get ahead of myself when talking. sometimes there are periods in the day where things seem to slow down and my perception of things changes a bit. It's very strange and hard to describe.

The social problems stuck with me until midway through high school when i really took notice of them and worked to improve upon them. junior year was when i finally had most of the wrinkles worked out of my social life.

Mentally I'm pretty sharp. I learn things quickly and easily. I was in a mensa affiliated program when i was young and was being tested at a college. I have always had a love of language, and am currently in college as an english major. I am a fanatic reader. math and science never presented much of a challenge, and I often got in trouble for not showing work because i was doing problems in my head and liked it better that way.

my cognitive skills are great. I love art. I have a habit of finding a strange subject, educating myself as best i can on it, then moving onto the next. this has led me to having a pretty varied education. I'm definitely a problem solver.

the social problems have been fixed mostly, and it took some doing but I'm fairly well coordinated for the most part now. the memory problems still bother me to this day though. there are chunks i just can't seem to remember, and still have problems remembering mundane things.

Not sure if this fits the bill or not, but i know it's not entirely normal to have those particular problems.

By anon54005 — On Nov 26, 2009

It is possible to have a high iq and have autism. I know because I have been classified as having a superior to genius IQ and have high level autism. My weaknesses have to do with spelling and some areas of short term memory. My strengths are engineering, math and science, as well as general problem solving.

I long to go back to college due to having a lot of interest in Tesla's sciences and a strong desire in continuing with his work.

Socially, I have issues. Mainly I have a great deal of difficulty in getting along with people and their cruel natures.

It may just be me but I see it in a lot of different forms from a lot of different people. Unnecessary harsh natures. Coldness. Aloofness. And it comes from the way society traps them into being. If you smile too much or you're too kind, sooner or later (most likely sooner), you'll be treated with scorn. Or abuse of one kind or the other.

Stay strong everyone. And don't fret. Just realize that the reason why they may be cruel is due to jealousy, fear, or greed. Be patient and on guard. Friendly but ready with a big stick. Spread kindness and subdue fear but be prepared to guard against the ugliness of the world. Even from the least likely source. That's my advice to everyone who shares my condition.

By anon53581 — On Nov 22, 2009

I've been recently diagnosed with AS. My parents see it, relatives see it, but I have two friends I've known for 11 years who simply don't see it, because I'm sociable, pick up on social cues, have no problem with empathy or sympathy. If anything, I have too much empathy. That might be a symptom just for me.

As far as coordination goes, I've always been just the opposite: physically graceful. My symptoms today are the following: being odd when in group conversation by changing the subject rather surprisingly, saying what I'm told is "inappropriate speech": I'm bitter about certain specific aspects of my life and as a result, half or most of the time I state what's on my mind instead of keeping my mouth shut! (Uum, listen to Joy Behar on The View. She is much more outspoken than me!)

I'm obsessive when someone says something really hurtful and I obsess about it mentally more than the next person and sometimes lash back! I would like to control the urge to lash back the same way.

Shyness and a good bit of solitude was prevalent in my childhood. Being overly sensitive still is. I have a poorer short term memory than others who do not have AS. I hated being shy as a child and found a way out of it. (FYI: was an only child)

I also have depression (on Wellbutrin), petit mal seizures (on Lamictal for that) but without epilepsy. So far in my life I've only been able to keep a few jobs. The ones I was able to keep I was laid off from and I left one because of certain health problems and another because they more or less wanted me out of there. I was really no longer needed.

I have often been told I'm too slow for fast paced jobs. I'm a one at a time tasker instead of a multi tasker. The silver lining for all of this is that its stabilizes in adulthood so I feel better about it.

I also am a low income wage earner because all of my job skills are low income wage earning. Even manicuring and pedicuring is as well low paying. I wanted to go back to school for this to financially better myself so I can be independent from the parents, however, LA State Vocational Rehab said no to that, so here I am, applying for Social Security, trying not to be angry, sad and sullen at AS, life, sometimes even God Himself.

Way back in 1988 and in 1994 I was raped. The first time it was by two strangers. The second time it was by my own boyfriend! I read AS people tend to trust too much and are gullible so we are targets for those with bad intentions. At the same time, what I went through is still not my fault.

My problems with dating in the past haven't been really good nor really bad. I've made both good choices and bad choices. Having self-esteem issues doesn't help either. My second to last boyfriend, well, was one of the poorest choices I've ever made in my whole dating life. Despite birth control pills, in 2002 I became pregnant, got laid off, had to tell my parents. They were not happy at all, rather heartbroken.

I turned over and over in my head all my options while talking to the guy, and while he didn't like at all the adoption option, he saw it as a way to keep it from his entire family. I went ahead with the adoption. I encouraged him to take part but he didn't want to at all. I had a son, seven weeks premature yet O.K. --he was just early and skinny. I'm still struggling, trying to feel whole again.

I've accepted the two rapes as part of my past. I don't see myself as a rape victim but a rape survivor.

Just to keep this all in balance, I do like myself, and I know I'm not worthless nor have I totally lost hope. It's a damn good thing I am not from a very broken and/or very dysfunctional home. I'm very grateful for that. My talents lie in music and some arts (good with my hands).

I find my singing to be my own natural high so I am in my church's choir. I'm great at spelling, vocabulary and grammar. I love to read. Now that I've blown off some steam here, good night, all.

By anon52637 — On Nov 16, 2009

Hi anon46556. Is it possible to have a high IQ when you have autism and by high, I mean quite a fair bit above average.

By anon46556 — On Sep 26, 2009

One out of 130 people, huh? Guess I'm that lucky one. After four years (Now 14) of I don't know whether to call it public or secrecy, mom revealed that I have this high IQ autism, and this article really proves it. I love language. I lack of coordination and motor skills, I talk as if I was 15 even though I was 10 and I find it impossible to look into someone's eyes while conversing with them. Often people found me wandering in my own world inside my brain. But I am really glad that mom and dad brought me to the hospital, where I undergo a few therapy sessions. Traces of my autism still remain, but most of them are cleared out. To anon26070, take it from me, we high-level autistics lack coordination and social skills.

By anon26070 — On Feb 07, 2009

Can a person with a high IQ and Autism have no typical symptoms at all such as speech, movement, hand flapping or anything? The only problem being social skills. Could that be Aspergers?

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