Autism is a brain disorder in which communication and interaction with others are difficult. The symptoms of autism may range from total lack of communication with others to difficulty in understanding others' feelings. Because of the range of symptoms, this condition is now called autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
High-functioning autism (HFA) is at one end of the ASD spectrum. Signs and symptoms are less severe than with other forms of autism. In fact, a person with high-functioning autism usually has average or above-average intelligence. The differences from other forms of autism have led many psychiatrists to consider high-functioning autism as similar to or the same as Asperger's syndrome. However, usually children with HFA have language delays early on like other children with autism. Children with Asperger’s, though, don’t show classic language delays until they have enough spoken language so that their language difficulties can be noted.
When my daughter Mary was diagnosed with autism in 1995,” says actor Gary Cole, “all I had to go on was Rain Man.” Today, an estimated one in 150 American children under age 8 are diagnosed with autism or related conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome -- all with symptoms such as an inability to relate to others, the insistence on rigid routines, and engaging in repetitive behaviors. “It seems you can ask any friend, any relative,” says Cole, “and they’ll be able to tell you about someone...
Whether it's labeled high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome, coping with this condition presents daily challenges for those who have it and for their family and friends.
Other than the difference in their language development, people with high-functioning autism and people with Asperger's syndrome share many similar characteristics. They typically have average or above-average intelligence. They may, though, show other behaviors and signs similar to what's seen with other types of autism. These include:
Unlike people with other forms of autism, people with high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome want to be involved with others. They simply don't know how to go about it. They may not be able to understand others' emotions. They may not read facial expressions or body language well. As a result, they may be teased and often feel like social outcasts. The unwanted social isolation can lead to anxiety and depression.
Autism runs in families. The underlying causes, however, are not known. Potential causes under investigation include:
The fact that higher levels of anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive diorder, and Tourette's syndrome as well as other tic disorders often occur in families with children with autism suggests some relationship among these different mental processes.