High Functioning Autism
High Functioning Autism (HFA) is the name of the condition of individuals who display some of the symptoms of autism, but who are also able to function at a level close to, or above the normal level in society. High Functioning Autism is sometimes also known as Asperger syndrome. In layman terms, those who are affected by High Functioning Autism may be labeled as being "eccentrics", "nerd", "geeks", or termed a "little professor".
The term Asperger Syndrome is sometimes used in the same sense as High Functioning Autism, but the exact difference between Autism, Asperger Syndrome, and High Functioning Autism will vary. There is a wide range of deficiencies, as well as talents found in High Functioning Autism, the precise configuration of which can vary widely between individuals.
There is a high correlation between High Functioning Autism characteristics, and those described in the Myers-Briggs INTP profile  description. Another theory states that Asperger Syndrome correlates to the INTJ personality type, whereas High Functioning Autism correlates to the INFJ personality type.
Unfortunately there is evidence that the diagnosis of autism, has wrongly become a catch-all diagnosis for badly-behaved children. In 2000 in the UK, the lead clinician and autism specialist at Northgate and Prudhoe NHS Trust in Morpeth, Dr Tom Berney, published a paper commenting on this. He wrote in the prestigious British Journal of Psychiatry:- "There is a risk of the diagnosis of autism being extended to include anyone whose odd and troublesome personality does not readily fit some other category. Such over-inclusion is likely to devalue the diagnosis to a meaningless label."
There may also be overlap with the label of "intellectually gifted". There is some evidence, largely anecdotal, of instances where children who would previously have been labelled "intellectually gifted" are denied entry to an advanced for-the-gifted educational program - because their case notes give them the broader "autism" label.
Social Aspects of High Functioning Autism
In general, people with High Functioning Autism tend to make fairly frequent social mistakes involving because of their inability to accurately predict someone else's thoughts, feelings or reactions to something, in the same ways as the non autistic person. They may also forget to use many of the basic social pleasantries (e.g. forgetting to knock before entering a room; or when greeted with "how are you?" they may not reciprocate by following on to ask how the other person is).
Another problem they face would be their naive understanding of social interaction may cause them to be overly trusting of all people and thus, more vulnerable to being manipulated by others. They may then be considered as lacking "common sense". This is one reason it can prove to be a major disaster if youth services departments go on to create large "treatment" groups that will place the vulnerable, and young High Functioning Autism person alongside amoral and manipulative youths, who suffer with psychopathic disorders.
The autistic person may appear somewhat removed or disconnected at times, especially when placed in situations where they experience sensory overload, or when they are placed in settings of extreme social pressure, such as during a party, or in a crowded bar. Additionally, they may make only limited levels of eye contact, even during one-on-one encounters, which can then lead to them being labelled as being "shy" by non autistics.
Unlike autism, there is no general learning disability with High Functioning Autism . The research community recognises that High Functioning Autism does not happen in people with an IQ of less than about 75 (i.e.: able to complete elementary school and live independently in modern society). People with High Functioning Autism are usually very articulate - the DSM IV says that spoken language development must be normal for a diagnosis to be made.
People with High Functioning Autism normally will like routine and order. These traits may be seen as early as childhood (e.g.: as a child, writing out a A-Z library card-index catalog for their comic book collection). They may also limit their daily choice of clothing to only a select few choices.
When a person with High Functioning Autism is interested in a particular task or subject area, they will often work on it intently. If uninterested or they lose interest for some reason, they may just ignore the task all together, or maybe try to change it to reflect one of their personal interests, or perhaps only do the "bare minimum" required to complete the task. With High Functioning Autism, the preferred method of working may be to produce a complete rough structure, or draft first, and then to focus intently on taking it through many incremental revisions until the task is completed.
For more information about autism and the autistic community be sure to check out the resources available at answers-about-autism.
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