Treatments for Adults With High-Functioning Autism (2023)

Having high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD) means that you have mild autism symptoms and require the least amount of support for daily living compared to others with more severe cases. It's because of this that high-functioning autism is sometimes only diagnosed later in life—long after someone has learned to cope with the challenges of autism.

Since you've likely been managing the effects of your autism on your own, treatment may seem unnecessary. But regardless of whether you were diagnosed with autism in childhood or later on, treatment for high functioning autism can help you better manage your disorder. If you feel your condition is impacting your quality of life, it may be time to speak to your doctor.

This article will help you learn more about mild autism in adults. It discusses some of the symptoms, as well as treatments that may help adults who have autism.

Treatments for Adults With High-Functioning Autism (1)

Impact of High-Functioning Autism

The clinical manual doctors use to diagnose autism and other mental health conditions is called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The most recent version, the DSM-5, describes three levels of autism which are defined as ASD functional levels. It also explains support and services typically required, depending on the severity of symptoms.

Level 1, or high-functioning autism, involves mild symptoms and describes people who need the least support for their condition.

Symptoms of level 1 autism include:

  • Trouble with social interaction
  • Some level of sensitivity to sight, sounds, and other sensory input
  • A need for sameness, repetition, and order

Some adults with milder forms of autism are also likely to be focused on a specific area of interest than people who have more severe forms.However, if they do have a focused area of interest, they may have a hard time engaging with others outside of that interest.

Treatment is designed around the symptoms that are impacting your day-to-day life. This can differ from person to person.

Goals of Treatment

Autism isn't a disease, and it does not get worse with time as some illnesses do.

There is neither a physical nor ethical reason to do anything about it. It's only when the symptoms affect your quality of life—your health, job, relationships, and so on—that treatment may be a good option.

A treatment program is not meant to "cure" your autism. Rather, it's meant to give you a framework to betterunderstand both your strengths and your challenges.

Goals for an adult with level 1 autism might include:

  • Building self-control
  • Controlling emotions
  • Being flexible
  • Improving communications skills
  • Understanding non-verbal cues
  • Reducing anxiety

Seeking treatment also may connect you with a world of professionals and support groups who know the challenges of living with autism.

Treatment often involves dealing with family issues. This may help with repairing rifts in which family members no longer talk. A lack of knowledge about mild autism and its dynamics may actually be at the root of some of these conflicts.

(Video) High-Functioning Autism & Asperger's Syndrome: Diagnosis, Current Research, & Treatment Options (08)

In some cases, families become stronger when members work together to better understand and live with autism.

Challenges of Adult Autism

Forms of Treatment

Children with any level of autism usually receive some type of treatment in school. Typically, that means physical, occupational, and speech therapy. It usually comes along with some type of social skills training and behavior support.

If children have problems with sensory input, their parents might also sign them up for sensory integration therapy. This helps children to deal with sights, sounds, and other stimuli.

As they get older, they might get involved with social skills groups and cognitive therapy.

Some of these therapies can be appropriate for you as an adult too, although you may need to seek some of them in different settings. Exactly what's involved in treatment really depends on how your mild autism is impacting your life.

A treatment plan may involve applied behavior analysis (ABA). This is an evidence-based approach to managing mild autism through positive reinforcement of desired behaviors.

Too High Functioning for Applied Behavior Analysis?

Medication

Sometimes medication also is an option for controlling certain symptoms.

Prescriptions may include:

  • Antidepressants: Some of these drugs may be given to help with repetitive behaviors, or to better manage emotions like anger or anxiety.
  • Stimulants: These drugs may help reduce hyperactivity and improve focus and attention.
  • Anti-anxiety drugs: These may help with certain anxiety disorders commonly seen in people with an autism spectrum disorder.

Unapproved Therapies

Beware of false claims made about treating autism in both adults and children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has urged people to avoid some of these claims, including:

  • Chelation therapies: These products claim to "cure" autism symptoms by removing toxins in the body. Chelation products are sold as sprays, capsules, liquid drops, and clay baths.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: This involves breathing oxygen under pressure in a special hyperbaric chamber. It is used to treat some conditions like carbon monoxide poisoning, but it is not approved for autism.
  • Essential oils: These and other products, like raw camel's milk, are not FDA-approved.

Recap

Treatment for adult high-functioning autism involves therapy, which helps people gain the skills and strategies needed to better manage the condition. Sometimes, drugs may be prescribed as part of an overall treatment plan. Seeking care may also lead to better access to services for people with autism.

Services and Support

Though high-functioning autism, by definition, requires a low level of support overall, some people with level 1 autism may need more support than others. This depends on the specific challenges they face.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures reasonable accommodation at school or work for some high-functioning adults with an ASD diagnosis. Beyond that, the benefits may be limited. Still, an adult with ASD can ask a healthcare provider to write a report that clearly outlines their autism diagnosis and any associated functional challenges.

(Video) Autism Therapy: (5 Autism Treatment and Therapies)

With this written diagnosis, adults with autism may be eligible for state and federal services. In some cases, that may include help with health insurance, housing, and job training and placement.

Top 10 Autism Friendly Employers

Along with professional help, many adults with mild autism benefit from their own ability to gather information about ASD and employ strategies they learn. They may seek information from books, support groups, or conferences that share insights and ideas about life on the autism spectrum.

This may be especially important if you have a new diagnosis as an adult. You may feel your ASD is overlooked. Those around you may assume you are neurotypical. It may help you and your family to connect with others who share your autism experience.

Asperger's Syndrome Is No Longer an Official Diagnosis

Summary

People are much more aware of autism spectrum disorder than they once were. In some cases, that means adults find out they have autism later in life. Once you know the symptoms and have a diagnosis, help is available.

If you have autism, treatment may not be necessary, but it is possible. This usually means some form of therapy with a healthcare provider. It also may include medication. There are many resources that can help improve the quality of life for adults with autism, so be sure to find out what's available.

Finding a Job If You Have Autism

4 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Bishop-Fitzpatrick L, Minshew NJ, Eack SM. A systematic review of psychosocial interventions for adults with autism spectrum disorders.J Autism Dev Disord. 2013;43(3):687–694. doi:10.1007/s10803-012-1615-8

  2. National Institutes of Health. Medication Treatment for Autism.

  3. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Be Aware of Potentially Dangerous Products and Therapies That Claim to Treat Autism.

  4. Shattuck PT, Roux AM, Hudson LE, Taylor JL, Maenner MJ, Trani J-F. Services for Adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. 2012;57(5):284-291. doi:10.1177/070674371205700503

Additional Reading

(Video) What is High Functioning Autism? | Kati Morton

Treatments for Adults With High-Functioning Autism (2)

By Lisa Jo Rudy
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.

(Video) I have "High Functioning" Autism | AUTISM IN GIRLS

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FAQs

How is high functioning autism treated in adults? ›

Treatment for adult high-functioning autism involves therapy, which helps people gain the skills and strategies needed to better manage the condition. Sometimes, drugs may be prescribed as part of an overall treatment plan. Seeking care may also lead to better access to services for people with autism.

What kind of therapy is best for autistic adults? ›

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that can be effective in helping children and adults. During CBT sessions, people learn about the connections between feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. This may help to identify the thoughts and feelings that trigger negative behaviors.

What helps high functioning autism? ›

Potential ASD support includes:
  • Speech therapy. ASD can cause a variety of speech issues. ...
  • Physical therapy. Some autistic people have trouble with motor skills. ...
  • Occupational therapy. ...
  • Sensory training. ...
  • Applied behavioral analysis (ABA). ...
  • Medication.
18 Jul 2018

What helps adult autism burnout? ›

How can you recover from autistic burnout?
  1. Remove obligations. It's time to get a little ruthless with your schedule and commitments. ...
  2. Participate in soothing activities. ...
  3. Sensory interventions. ...
  4. If you can't sleep, rest. ...
  5. Practice self-compassion.
23 Sept 2021

Is high-functioning autism considered a disability? ›

What is high functioning autism? Autism is a developmental disability. High-functioning autism generally refers to autistic people who have significantly developed language and independent living skills.

What can mimic high-functioning autism? ›

Examples include:
  • Avoidant personality disorder.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Reactive attachment disorder.
  • Social (pragmatic) communication disorder.
  • Schizophrenia, which rarely happens in children.
18 Jan 2022

Does CBD help autistic adults? ›

CBD leads to enhancement in the release of vasopressin and oxytocin; thus, it could positively affect ASD core symptoms. Studies have shown that oxytocin administration to patients with ASD improves social interactions, reduces classic repetitive behavior, and increases eye contact (Weia et al. 2015).

What are the signs of high-functioning autism in adults? ›

Signs of autism in adults
  • finding it hard to understand what others are thinking or feeling.
  • getting very anxious about social situations.
  • finding it hard to make friends or preferring to be on your own.
  • seeming blunt, rude or not interested in others without meaning to.
  • finding it hard to say how you feel.

Is there autism medication? ›

Currently, there is no medication that can cure autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or all of its symptoms. But some medications can help treat certain symptoms associated with ASD, especially certain behaviors.

What is the difference between high-functioning autism and Aspergers? ›

Asperger's syndrome is closely related. Identified for the first time in 1944 by Viennese psychologist Hans Asperger, it wasn't officially classified as a unique disorder until 1994. It shares all the features of high-functioning autism except that people with Asperger's don't have early delays in developing language.

What does an autism shutdown feel like? ›

Being completely silent. Not being able to communicate in any way. Withdrawing to a quiet, dark space to get away from the cause of their shutdown. Not being able to move from where they are because they're thinking too much about the cause of their shutdown.

What does autistic burnout look like in adults? ›

Definition of autistic burnout

Autistic burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic life stress and a mismatch of expectations and abilities without adequate supports. It is characterised by pervasive, long-term (typically 3+ months) exhaustion, loss of function, and reduced tolerance to stimulus.

How do you stop an autistic adult meltdown? ›

At this stage, there may still be a chance to prevent a meltdown. Strategies to consider include distraction, diversion, helping the person use calming strategies such as fiddle toys or listening to music, removing any potential triggers, and staying calm yourself.

What jobs can autistic adults do? ›

Careers For People With Autism
  • Animal science. For those who enjoy working with pets, career options include veterinary technician, groomer, obedience trainer, dog walker or pet sitter. ...
  • Researcher. ...
  • Accounting. ...
  • Shipping and logistics. ...
  • Art and design. ...
  • Manufacturing. ...
  • Information technology. ...
  • Engineering.
12 Nov 2020

What are autistic adults entitled to? ›

If you have an official diagnosis of autism, you are able to seek protection and accommodations in all federally funded programs – employment, housing, community living, etc. – under this law.

Does autism run in families? ›

If someone in your family has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you may be more likely to have a child with ASD. ASD can look very different from person to person, so taking a careful family health history can be important for early diagnosis.

What is the rarest form of autism? ›

Childhood disintegrative disorder.

This was the rarest and most severe part of the spectrum. It described children who develop normally and then quickly lose many social, language, and mental skills, usually between ages 2 and 4. Often, these children also developed a seizure disorder.

What mental illnesses can be mistaken for autism? ›

What is autism commonly misdiagnosed as (and vice versa)?
  • anxiety.
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • mood disorders.
  • personality disorders.
  • intellectual disability.
  • psychosis.
  • personality disorder.
  • depression.
29 Apr 2022

What is often misdiagnosed as autism? ›

ASD and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) share a number of symptoms, such as problems with executive functioning, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity. Occasionally, individuals with ASD are misdiagnosed with ADHD.

What are the signs of high-functioning autism in adults? ›

Signs of autism in adults
  • finding it hard to understand what others are thinking or feeling.
  • getting very anxious about social situations.
  • finding it hard to make friends or preferring to be on your own.
  • seeming blunt, rude or not interested in others without meaning to.
  • finding it hard to say how you feel.

What is the difference between high-functioning autism and Aspergers? ›

Asperger's syndrome is closely related. Identified for the first time in 1944 by Viennese psychologist Hans Asperger, it wasn't officially classified as a unique disorder until 1994. It shares all the features of high-functioning autism except that people with Asperger's don't have early delays in developing language.

How do you stop an autistic adult meltdown? ›

At this stage, there may still be a chance to prevent a meltdown. Strategies to consider include distraction, diversion, helping the person use calming strategies such as fiddle toys or listening to music, removing any potential triggers, and staying calm yourself.

What does autism feel like in adults? ›

Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Adults

Difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling. Trouble interpreting facial expressions, body language, or social cues. Difficulty regulating emotion. Trouble keeping up a conversation.

Do autistic people have empathy? ›

Every person living with autism is unique; some may struggle with empathy while others may feel completely overwhelmed by other people's feelings, and then there is everyone in between. It seems that autistic expression of empathy may be atypical.

What are the 10 signs of autism in adults? ›

Signs of Adult Autism
  • Challenges taking turns in a conversation.
  • Monopolizing conversation with one's own interests or thoughts.
  • Difficulty making interpersonal connections.
  • Hyperfocus on a specific topic or interest.
  • Abnormalities in eye contact and body language.
  • Not “picking up” on body language and facial cues of others.
14 Jul 2022

Does autism run in families? ›

If someone in your family has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you may be more likely to have a child with ASD. ASD can look very different from person to person, so taking a careful family health history can be important for early diagnosis.

What is high functioning autism called now? ›

As of 2013, Asperger Syndrome and High-functioning autism are no longer terms used by the American Psychological Association, and have instead both been merged into autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What does Aspergers in adults look like? ›

You may have a hard time reacting to actions, words, and behaviors with empathy or concern. Exaggerated emotional response. While not always intentional, adults with AS may struggle to cope with emotional situations, feelings of frustration, or changes in pattern. This may lead to emotional outbursts.

What are autistic people good at? ›

Autistic people may display a range of strengths and abilities that can be directly related to their diagnosis, including: Learning to read at a very early age (known as hyperlexia). Memorising and learning information quickly. Thinking and learning in a visual way.

What is an autistic shutdown in adults? ›

An analogy for a shutdown is like a computer trying to turn on but it can't because there isn't enough power to do so. In a shutdown an autistic person might not seem themselves because they're so overwhelmed that their focus has shifted to the basic functions.

What triggers an autistic person? ›

A common question after an autism diagnosis is what is the cause of autism. We know that there's no one cause of autism. Research suggests that autism develops from a combination of genetic and nongenetic, or environmental, influences. These influences appear to increase the risk that a child will develop autism.

What is the best medication for autism and aggression? ›

Both risperidone (Risperdal) and aripiprazole (Abilify) are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating autism-related irritability, which includes aggression, tantrums, and self-injury.

Videos

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2. High Functioning of Autism in Adults | Signs of High Functioning of Autism
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3. Autism In Adulthood: 5 Mistakes YOU Need To Avoid
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4. 5 Traits Of High Functioning Autism (YOU Need To See)
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