Signs of Aspergers Syndrome

High Functioning Autism and Mild Aspergers

People may wonder what the difference between Mild Aspergers and High Functioning Autism is. Technically speaking, Aspergers as a diagnosis was stripped as a diagnosis from the DSM diagnosis manual a few years ago, so outside it being a descriptor, really High Functioning Autism is Mild Aspergers. You then may ask, what is High Functioning Autism? Clinically, it means someone who can verbalize vs someone who cannot. That is it. But now lets dive in a bit more to the non-clinical definition is.

It seems like keeping Aspergers would have been a better idea, and many would agree. However, in fairness, there are things like PDD-NOS (Pervasive-Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) that can fill in the gaps where high functioning autism cannot in and of itself. PDD-NOS is probably more flexible than Aspergers Syndrome and is not as a rigid of criteria for a diagnosis.

Moving on from defining characteristics of High Functioning Autism, what are some unique challenges facing those with HFA? One thing that people don't usually put a name to but exists is the uncanny valley. You look "normal" enough to pass as a neurotypical person, but because of masking and other issues, it almost seems too perfect. This idea comes from humanoid robots that are a bit off because they look a lot like humans, but because of their well polished nature just look odd. Masking can be helpful in preventing yourself from saying something totally off the wall, but once you are able to master what is okay and not okay to say, masking can become a liability.

While there are negatives as well, there are definite upsides to High Functioning Autism. Software engineering, investment/banking businesses, and business analyst type roles make good career choices for those with High Functioning Autism. Many startup founders seemed to also have some form of autism, including Bram Cohen, the creator Bittorrent. Those with High Functioning Autism also tend to have average to above average IQs. While they may excel academically or when it comes to their special interest, due to social skill issues or being in the uncanny valley, many people may misinterpret body language that may be cumbersome, clunky, or otherwise off putting to employers. There has been some progress with staffing agencies that focus on neurodiverse candidates, but it is still a niche area.

Some who have High Functioning Autism may do well academically. This does not mean that academic success is always indicative of someone's chances of being successful, as some people only excel at their special interest and nothing else. Many also self teach themselves various topics, including software development. They may also show interest in challenging or weird topics. This may include disturbing things like serial killers, making bombs, hacking, or other things that are anti-social. This does not apply to everyone, and does not even mean they will act on these things, as they may just be a fascination. In an interview, the co-founder of Paypal Peter Thiel acknowledged that many of the early people who were early employees and founders at Paypal had experimented with making bombs or getting into other trouble and many of these people were Neurodiverse (including Elon Musk) and perhaps Peter Thiel himself, although he has never admitted to it. This may be indicative of young, creative, and fast paced minds that needed challenged. Thankfully they were on the right track and as a result created Paypal.

As with everyone on the Autism Spectrum, everyone has their challenges. One of the biggest issues is with social interaction. People may find the demeanor, things tending to be very planned, sometimes stimming (repetitive quirks that soothe them), stiff body language, or manner/content of speech odd. This can be dampened by getting involved in special interest groups, as this tends to be more accepted, especially with the tech community. One things to consider is that many on the Autism Spectrum suggest that they experience their symptoms more frequently when they are under stress or are anxious. If someone on the Spectrum can minimize things that make them anxious or stressed, they can operate with less setbacks. Remote schooling and jobs may also reduce anxiety and stress someone on the Spectrum needs to deal with. This does prove to be a setback with networking though.

If you are someone who cares and worry about someone with High Functioning Autism, the biggest gift you can afford to them is understanding and compassion. Some things may not click instantly, but with a little exposure and simple explanations may help ease someone into things better. Therapy, if available, is always highly encouraged. There are also supplements that can help with ancillary issues, such as St. Johns Wart for depression and l-theanine for anxiety. You should realize this is a journey and things will not change over night. Also foster the talents and ideas that the person you know has expressed. If they are good at programming, foster that. If they are good with animals, foster that.

Things can get better and it does not require someone to fake something or to mask. What people with High Functioning Autism need to do is not be ashamed of their good or bad points, as long as they are not malicious. They should focus on being their genuine self and seeking out spaces through things such as and local events that pop up from time to time. Change does not mean they need a public and private face and feel ashamed of their private face. What they should doo is seek out the right resources and spaces. Reading some on social skills may not be bad, but some advice might not be as intuitive for them as it is for Neutotypicals. Thus, any general advice on relationships or the like should be tempered with the fact their brain chemistry is different than many peoples. That is not a bad thing, but wasting time on what might work for most people is just wasting energy that could be focused on bringing out the best in them.

Disclaimer: We are not doctors or licensed therapists and always suggest you reach out to a professional. This is here for informational purposes only.