How To Deal with High-Functioning Autism in Adults?


Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that more than 5.4 million U.S. adults live with autism spectrum disorder. This necessitates many to enroll in specialized day programs for adults with developmental disabilities.

Among those dealing with autism in adults, are individuals with High-Functioning Autism (HFA). This is often seen as less severe on the spectrum. These adults often have impressive cognitive skills and special talents but might find social interactions and sensory environments challenging. However, with the right coping strategies, supportive networks, and educational programs, they can lead fulfilling lives while minimizing the barriers they face.

If you or someone you care about has High-Functioning Autism (HFA), you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll explore strategies for managing high functioning autism in adult women and men. This should empower you to navigate daily challenges more effectively.

What is High-Functioning Autism in Adults?

High-functioning autism in adults refers to individuals on the autism spectrum who possess average to above-average intelligence but may face challenges with social skills, communication, and flexibility in thinking or behavior.

The symptoms of high-functioning autism in male adults and women often greatly vary. Unlike more severe forms of autism, adults with high-functioning autism often have fewer difficulties with language and can live independently. They are capable of holding down jobs and maintaining relationships. However, they might struggle to understand non-verbal cues, manage emotional responses, and adapt to unfamiliar situations.

Keynote: In 2007, the American Academy of Special Education Professionals recognized High-Functioning Autism (HFA) with the diagnostic code AU-4.00 in the Educator’s Diagnostic Manual (EDM), despite its unofficial status in many diagnostic frameworks.

Signs and Symptoms of High Functioning Autism: How Do They Manifest in Male and Female Adults?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including High-Functioning Autism, presents uniquely across individuals, influenced by a myriad of social, biological, and environmental factors. These influences often result in symptoms that vary significantly, not only from person to person but also across genders.

Historically, studies have identified a gender disparity in autism diagnoses, with boys being diagnosed far more frequently than girls, at a ratio of approximately 4:1. However, this statistic becomes less clear-cut in adulthood. Many adults, particularly women, may go undiagnosed due to a variety of reasons, including subtler presentation of symptoms, societal expectations, and a greater tendency for women to mask their difficulties.

In this section, we’ll provide common symptoms of HFA in males and females to enhance awareness and support accurate identification.

Signs and Symptoms in Adult Females

The signs and symptoms of high functioning autism in adult women are as follows:

  • They might have a small circle of close friends or prefer one-on-one interactions.
  • Could display intense interest in specific subjects, but these may be more socially acceptable or less conspicuous.
  • Emotional sensitivity and empathy might be higher, leading to internalized stress and anxiety.
  • Sensory sensitivities can be present, with preferences for certain fabrics or food textures.

Signs and Symptoms in Adult Males

Males commonly struggle with understanding non-verbal cues, maintaining eye contact, and engaging in small talk. Additionally, the symptoms of high functioning autism in male adults are as follows:

  • They may have highly focused interests or hobbies, often with a great depth of knowledge in specific areas.
  • They are less likely to camouflage their difficulties, leading to more noticeable social awkwardness.
  • Sensory issues such as discomfort with loud noises or bright lights.
  • Might experience challenges in adapting to changes in routine or environment.

Understanding and recognizing these signs can help in dealing with autism in adults — providing appropriate support and interventions.

Providing Initial Diagnosis: High-Functioning Autism Checklist for Adults

The following high functioning autism checklist for adults is designed to highlight some common indicators. These include:

  • Difficulty in social interactions (misreading cues, struggles in conversations).
  • Trouble with non-verbal communication (misinterpreting body language).
  • Intense interest in specific topics.
  • High need for routine and structure.
  • Sensory sensitivities (light, sound, texture).
  • Social awkwardness (inadvertently breaking social norms).
  • Literal interpretation of language (difficulty with sarcasm or jokes).
  • Emotional regulation issues (managing anxiety or mood swings).
  • Executive function challenges (organizing, planning difficulties).

However, it’s important to note that these signs can vary widely among individuals and do not alone confirm a diagnosis of high-functioning autism. A comprehensive evaluation by specialists, including psychologists, psychiatrists, or neurologists, is necessary to make an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment for high functioning autism in adults.

How to Deal with High-Functioning Autism? – Helpful tips.

Knowing how to deal with adult autism is crucial, especially considering the stark disparities in opportunities for autistic adults​.

1. Social Understanding

Keeping a detailed diary of social interactions, including your observations, feelings, and outcomes, can be immensely helpful. Reflect on these entries to enhance your understanding of social cues and improve future interactions. For instance, note how people respond to different conversation starters to guide you on which topics are more engaging in social settings.

Additionally, use role-playing or social stories to rehearse social scenarios. This can prepare you for real-life interactions, making social engagements less daunting.

2. Sensory Processing

Sensory sensitivities are among the main characteristics of high functioning autism in adults due to atypical neural processing, making certain stimuli overwhelming. For example, the brain’s overreaction to sound can make a crowded room feel unbearable.

Employ sensory adaptation techniques, such as noise-canceling headphones in loud environments, to mitigate discomfort. Create a personal sensory kit containing items that help soothe your specific sensitivities (e.g., stress balls, textured fabrics). This allows for immediate coping mechanisms when overwhelmed.

3. Flexibility and Routine

Traits of high-functioning autism in adults often include a preference for routines and predictability, stemming from variations in the brain’s executive functioning and anxiety management systems.

Gradually introduce small changes to routines to increase adaptability. Visual schedules can help manage transitions by clearly outlining what to expect next. For example, if a preferred route to work is disrupted, having a visual map of alternative routes can reduce anxiety.

4. Anxiety Management

Many adults dealing with high functioning autism experience heightened levels of anxiety, partly due to the constant effort to fit into a world that doesn’t naturally align with their perception.

Techniques such as mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises can be particularly effective. Engaging in mindfulness practice daily, even for just a few minutes, can help lower overall anxiety levels. Apps like Headspace or Calm provide guided sessions specifically designed to ease the mind.


Living with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) as an adult means dealing with some challenges but also having unique strengths. This article talked about ways to handle HFA, highlighting the need to know your needs, use your strengths, and get the right help. Using coping tips, getting better at socializing, and managing sensory issues can really help in everyday life.

The goal is to not see HFA as a setback but as a chance to get to know yourself better and make changes for a good life is key. Last but not least, recognizing that the signs of high functioning autism in female adults often differ significantly from those in male adults is crucial for understanding and addressing the condition effectively.

With the right approach, people with HFA can enjoy a fulfilling life, make a difference in their community, and do well in what they’re passionate about. It all comes down to knowing what works for you, getting support, and always trying to improve.