Treatment Options for High Functioning Autism

High functioning autism is a term used to describe individuals with autism who have average or above average intelligence and good communication skills but still struggle with social interactions and emotional regulation.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
January 24, 2024
min read

Understanding High Functioning Autism

When it comes to high functioning autism, understanding the condition and its unique characteristics is essential for parents seeking the best treatment options for their child. This section will provide an overview of what high functioning autism is and highlight some of the common characteristics and challenges associated with this neurodevelopmental disorder.

What is High Functioning Autism?

High functioning autism is a term used to describe individuals on the autism spectrum who have average or above-average intellectual abilities. While there is no official diagnosis of "high functioning autism" in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it is often used to refer to individuals with autism who do not have significant intellectual impairments.

Individuals with high functioning autism typically exhibit difficulties in social interaction and communication, as well as restricted or repetitive behaviors. However, they may have fewer speech and language delays compared to individuals with other forms of autism.

Characteristics and Challenges

Children with high functioning autism may display a range of characteristics and face various challenges that impact their daily lives. Some common characteristics include:

  • Difficulty understanding social cues and nonverbal communication, such as body language and facial expressions.
  • Challenges in initiating and maintaining conversations, interpreting sarcasm or figurative language, and understanding social norms.
  • Strong focus on specific interests or topics, often with extensive knowledge in these areas.
  • Sensory sensitivities or difficulties, such as being overly sensitive to light, sound, or touch.
  • Rigid adherence to routines and resistance to changes in their environment or daily activities.

These characteristics can present challenges in multiple areas, including academics, social relationships, and daily functioning. Challenges in social interaction may lead to difficulties making friends or forming meaningful relationships. Additionally, individuals with high functioning autism may struggle with executive functioning skills, such as organization, time management, and problem-solving.

Understanding the unique characteristics and challenges associated with high functioning autism is the first step in identifying appropriate treatment options for children. By recognizing these traits, parents can seek interventions and therapies that target specific areas of need, helping their child thrive and reach their full potential.

girl playing hula hoop on his arm

Importance of Early Intervention

When it comes to high functioning autism, early intervention plays a crucial role in supporting a child's development and improving their long-term outcomes. Recognizing the early signs and obtaining a timely diagnosis are essential steps in accessing appropriate treatment options.

Early Signs and Diagnosis

Identifying the early signs of high functioning autism can significantly impact a child's journey towards receiving appropriate support and treatment. While the specific signs may vary from child to child, some common indicators include:

  • Delayed speech or language development
  • Difficulty with social interactions or forming relationships
  • Repetitive behaviors or restricted interests
  • Sensory sensitivities or aversions
  • Challenges with transitions or changes in routines

If you notice any of these signs in your child, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional who specializes in developmental disorders. They can conduct a comprehensive evaluation to determine if your child meets the criteria for a diagnosis of high functioning autism.

Benefits of Early Intervention

Early intervention for high functioning autism offers numerous benefits that can positively impact a child's development and well-being. By accessing appropriate treatment options at a young age, children with high functioning autism can:

  1. Enhance Development: Early intervention focuses on addressing the specific needs of children with high functioning autism, aiming to enhance their overall development. This may include targeting areas such as communication, social skills, and emotional regulation.
  2. Improve Communication Skills: Interventions such as speech and language therapy can help improve communication skills, enabling children to express their thoughts and needs effectively.
  3. Promote Social Interaction: Early intervention programs often incorporate strategies to enhance social skills and promote positive social interactions. This can help children develop meaningful relationships and improve their ability to navigate social situations.
  4. Reduce Challenging Behaviors: Targeted interventions can help reduce challenging behaviors commonly associated with high functioning autism. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is one approach that focuses on modifying behavior and teaching new skills.
  5. Maximize Educational Opportunities: Early intervention can equip children with the necessary skills to succeed in educational settings. It can support the development of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and facilitate inclusion in mainstream education with appropriate accommodations.
  6. Support Family and Caregivers: Early intervention programs often provide resources and support for families and caregivers, helping them navigate the challenges associated with raising a child with high functioning autism.

Remember, early intervention is not limited to a specific age range. The earlier the intervention begins, the greater the potential for positive outcomes. However, even if your child has not received early intervention, it is never too late to seek appropriate treatment options and support their ongoing development.

Treatment Approaches for High Functioning Autism

When it comes to treating high functioning autism, there are various approaches that can be beneficial in helping individuals navigate their social and communication challenges. Here, we will explore three commonly used treatment options: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Speech and Language Therapy, and Occupational Therapy.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a widely recognized treatment approach for individuals with high functioning autism. ABA focuses on understanding and modifying behaviors by using principles of learning theory. This evidence-based therapy aims to improve communication skills, social interactions, and adaptive behaviors.

ABA therapy involves breaking down complex skills into smaller, manageable steps and using positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors. By consistently reinforcing these behaviors, individuals with high functioning autism can build new skills and reduce challenging behaviors.

During ABA therapy, data is collected and analyzed systematically to track progress and make adjustments to the treatment plan as needed. The goal is to promote independence, enhance communication abilities, and improve overall quality of life for individuals with high functioning autism.

Speech and Language Therapy

Speech and Language Therapy plays a crucial role in the treatment of high functioning autism, as communication difficulties are often a primary challenge for individuals on the autism spectrum. This therapy focuses on improving language and communication skills, including speech production, comprehension, and social communication.

Speech and Language Therapy for high functioning autism may involve various techniques, such as:

  • Speech Therapy: This focuses on improving speech clarity, articulation, and fluency. Techniques may include exercises to strengthen speech muscles, practice with different speech sounds, and strategies for improving vocal expression.
  • Language Therapy: Language therapy aims to enhance expressive and receptive language skills. It may involve activities to improve vocabulary, sentence structure, understanding of non-literal language, and pragmatic language (i.e., social language skills).
  • Social Communication Skills Training: This aspect of Speech and Language Therapy focuses on improving social interaction, non-verbal communication, and understanding social cues. It includes teaching individuals how to initiate and maintain conversations, recognize emotions, and navigate social situations effectively.

Speech and Language Therapy can significantly improve communication abilities and enhance social interactions for individuals with high functioning autism.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational Therapy is another valuable treatment approach for individuals with high functioning autism. This therapy focuses on developing skills needed for daily living, self-care, and overall independence. Occupational therapists work with individuals to address challenges related to sensory processing, motor skills, and adaptive behaviors.

Occupational Therapy for high functioning autism may include:

  • Sensory Integration Therapy: This therapy helps individuals with sensory processing difficulties by providing sensory experiences that help regulate and integrate sensory input. It aims to improve sensory modulation, enhance attention and focus, and reduce sensory sensitivities.
  • Motor Skills Development: Occupational therapists work on developing fine motor skills (e.g., handwriting, using utensils) and gross motor skills (e.g., coordination, balance) to promote independence and participation in daily activities.
  • Self-care Skills Training: This involves teaching individuals essential self-care skills, such as dressing, grooming, and personal hygiene, to foster independence and self-sufficiency.

Occupational Therapy can greatly enhance an individual's ability to navigate daily tasks, manage sensory challenges, and improve overall quality of life.

By considering the various treatment approaches available, parents of individuals with high functioning autism can make informed decisions about the interventions that best suit their child's unique needs. It is essential to consult with professionals and create a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses the specific challenges and goals of the individual with high functioning autism.

Educational Support and Specialized Programs

When it comes to the treatment of high functioning autism, educational support plays a crucial role in helping individuals reach their full potential. Various programs and approaches are available to cater to the unique needs of children with high functioning autism. In this section, we will explore three important options: Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), specialized schools and programs, and inclusion in mainstream education.

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)

Individualized Education Programs, commonly known as IEPs, are personalized plans designed to meet the educational needs of children with high functioning autism. These programs are developed collaboratively by a team consisting of parents, educators, therapists, and other professionals. The goal of an IEP is to provide tailored support and accommodations to help the child succeed academically and socially.

IEPs typically include specific goals, objectives, and strategies to address the unique challenges faced by the child. These may involve modifications to the curriculum, individualized instruction, and additional support services such as speech therapy or occupational therapy. Regular progress monitoring and periodic reviews ensure that the plan is adjusted as the child's needs evolve.

Specialized Schools and Programs

Specialized schools and programs offer a more focused and intensive educational environment for children with high functioning autism. These schools are specifically designed to provide a supportive and tailored learning experience, integrating academic instruction with therapeutic interventions. The smaller class sizes and specialized teaching methods allow for individualized attention and a structured learning environment.

In specialized schools, the curriculum is adapted to meet the unique needs of children with high functioning autism. Social skills training, communication development, and behavioral management techniques are often integrated into the daily routines. These schools may also offer additional support services such as occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, or speech and language therapy.

Inclusion in Mainstream Education

Inclusion in mainstream education refers to the practice of integrating children with high functioning autism into regular classrooms alongside their typically developing peers. This approach strives to create an inclusive and accepting environment that promotes social interaction, peer learning, and academic growth.

Inclusion programs often involve a combination of strategies, accommodations, and support services to ensure that children with high functioning autism can fully participate in the general education curriculum. This may include modifications to teaching methods, visual supports, assistive technology, and the provision of a dedicated support staff or paraeducator.

While inclusion in mainstream education can be beneficial for many children with high functioning autism, it's important to consider the individual needs of the child. Some children may thrive in inclusive settings, while others may require additional support or a combination of mainstream and specialized programs.

By exploring educational support options, such as Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), specialized schools and programs, and inclusion in mainstream education, parents can make informed decisions about the best educational environment for their child with high functioning autism. Collaboration with educators, therapists, and professionals is key to designing a comprehensive and individualized approach that maximizes the child's learning potential and fosters their overall development.

Alternative and Complementary Therapies

In addition to traditional treatment approaches, there are alternative and complementary therapies that can be beneficial for individuals with high functioning autism. These therapies target specific areas of development and help individuals improve their social skills, sensory integration, and overall well-being. Some of the commonly used alternative and complementary therapies for high functioning autism include social skills training, sensory integration therapy, and dietary interventions.

Social Skills Training

Social skills training focuses on developing and improving social interaction and communication skills. It helps individuals with high functioning autism learn appropriate social behaviors, such as making eye contact, taking turns during conversations, and understanding nonverbal cues. Social skills training is typically conducted in a structured setting, where individuals practice various social scenarios and receive feedback on their behavior.

This therapy often incorporates role-playing exercises, group activities, and video modeling to teach social skills. The goal is to enhance social competence and improve the individual's ability to form and maintain relationships with peers and adults.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration therapy aims to address difficulties in processing sensory information that individuals with high functioning autism may experience. It focuses on helping individuals regulate and respond appropriately to sensory stimuli from the environment. Sensory integration therapy involves engaging in specific activities that provide sensory input and help individuals integrate and organize sensory information.

These activities may include swinging, jumping, playing with tactile materials, and engaging in deep pressure activities. The therapy is tailored to the individual's specific sensory needs and can help improve sensory processing, attention, self-regulation, and overall sensory experiences.

Dietary Interventions

Some individuals with high functioning autism may benefit from dietary interventions, although the evidence supporting the effectiveness of these interventions is limited. Dietary interventions involve making changes to an individual's diet to address specific symptoms or behaviors associated with autism.

One commonly discussed dietary intervention is the gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet, which eliminates foods containing gluten (found in wheat) and casein (found in dairy products). Some parents and professionals believe that this diet can reduce certain behaviors related to high functioning autism, although scientific evidence supporting its effectiveness is inconclusive.

It's important to note that before implementing any dietary interventions, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian who specializes in autism to ensure that the individual's nutritional needs are met.

While alternative and complementary therapies can provide additional support for individuals with high functioning autism, it's crucial to consult with professionals and integrate these therapies into a comprehensive treatment plan. Collaborating with a team of therapists, educators, and healthcare providers can help parents make informed decisions and tailor interventions to the unique needs of their child.

Collaborating with Professionals

When it comes to the treatment of high functioning autism, collaborating with professionals is essential for ensuring the best support and care for your child. Building a support team, working with therapists and educators, and advocating for your child's needs are key aspects of this collaborative process.

Building a Support Team

To provide comprehensive care for your child with high functioning autism, it's important to build a support team consisting of professionals who specialize in autism spectrum disorders. This team may include:

  • Pediatrician: A pediatrician can help with the initial diagnosis and provide guidance on overall health and well-being.
  • Psychologist/Psychiatrist: A psychologist or psychiatrist can assist with assessments, diagnosis, and provide therapy or medication management if necessary.
  • Behavioral Therapist: A behavioral therapist, often specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), can help develop strategies to address challenging behaviors and teach essential skills.
  • Speech and Language Pathologist: A speech and language pathologist can work on improving communication skills, social interaction, and language development.
  • Occupational Therapist: An occupational therapist can assist with sensory integration, fine motor skills, and daily living skills.
  • Special Education Teacher: A special education teacher can provide educational support within the school setting, develop individualized education programs (IEPs), and implement appropriate teaching strategies.
  • Support Groups: Connecting with support groups or parent organizations can provide valuable emotional support, advice, and resources.

Working with Therapists and Educators

Collaboration with therapists and educators is crucial for creating a comprehensive treatment plan for your child. Regular communication and sharing of information between these professionals can ensure a consistent approach to your child's needs. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Open Communication: Maintain open and regular communication with therapists and educators. Share observations, progress, and concerns to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Goal Setting: Work together to set specific and measurable goals for your child's development and progress. Regularly review and revise these goals as needed.
  • Sharing Strategies: Share strategies that work well at home with therapists and educators, and vice versa. This collaborative approach helps reinforce skills across different environments.
  • Consistency: Aim for consistency in the strategies and interventions used by therapists, educators, and parents. This consistency helps your child generalize skills across different settings.

Advocating for Your Child's Needs

As a parent, you have a crucial role in advocating for your child's needs throughout their journey with high functioning autism. Here are some important steps to consider:

  • Educate Yourself: Learn about your child's rights, available resources, and evidence-based treatment approaches. This knowledge will empower you to make informed decisions and advocate effectively.
  • Attend Meetings: Attend meetings, such as IEP meetings, and actively participate in discussions about your child's education and support services. Collaborate with educators to ensure your child's individual needs are met.
  • Seek Second Opinions: If you have concerns or doubts about a particular treatment approach, don't hesitate to seek a second opinion from another professional. It's important to make decisions based on the best interests of your child.
  • Connect with Support Groups: Joining support groups can provide you with a network of other parents who understand your journey. They can offer guidance, support, and share experiences that may help you advocate more effectively.

By building a support team, working closely with therapists and educators, and advocating for your child's needs, you can ensure your child receives the best possible treatment and support for their high functioning autism. Remember, you are your child's greatest advocate and ally in their journey towards reaching their full potential.


What is the best treatment option for high functioning autism?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating high functioning autism. The best treatment option will depend on the individual's specific needs and challenges. It is important to work with a healthcare provider to develop a personalized treatment plan.

Can high functioning autism be cured?

There is no cure for autism, including high functioning autism. However, with appropriate treatment and support, individuals with high functioning autism can lead fulfilling lives.

Is medication necessary for treating high functioning autism?

Medication may be helpful in managing certain symptoms of high functioning autism, such as anxiety or depression. However, it is not always necessary and should be used in conjunction with other treatments.

How long does treatment for high functioning autism last?

The length of treatment for high functioning autism will vary depending on the individual's needs and progress. Some individuals may require ongoing therapy while others may only need short-term intervention.

Will my insurance cover the cost of treatment for high functioning autism?

Many insurance plans cover the cost of treatment for high functioning autism, but it is important to check with your insurance provider to understand your coverage options. Some states also have laws requiring insurance companies to cover certain types of treatment for individuals with ASD.


If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with high functioning autism, it is important to understand that there are many treatment options available that can help. With the right treatment, individuals with high functioning autism can lead fulfilling lives and thrive in many areas of their lives. By working with healthcare providers and therapists, individuals with high functioning autism can learn the skills they need to succeed in society.


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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