Well, that depends… (dontcha just hate that, when you come some place looking for an answer and the answer leads to more questions…ok, I’m going to TRY not to do that…but it really does depend).
Autism is broken down into a spectrum based on FUNCTION.
If a person can function independently and can be a productive member of society then that person is “high functioning”. Development issues for this person to over come may be more social. They may need to put forth more effort to pick up on social ques, be aware of their own body language, be aware of their speech, and so on. All of these efforts to fit into social norms are usually tackled in early childhood to pre-teen mainly because kids are mean and no one wants their child bullied. Parents make every effort to arm their children with the skills they need to make it in middle and high school. And those years can be very rough for high functioning people. It’s a misconception that high functioning people always have some sort of savant syndrome (like Rain Man or a super genius). Yes, autism comes with a myriad of co-morbidities (other issues) and savant syndrome could be one of them…but there’s also ADD, ADHD, Depression, Gastrointestinal issues, and so on. These issues are not as glamorous as the media makes savant syndrome but they’re more often the case. It can be very hard for a person who is high functioning, often because they can function at a normal level in most things, people expect them to function at a normal level in ALL things and this can be a lot of pressure.
Next there is “moderate functioning” autism. Moderate functioning people may have all, some, or none of the social issues that come from the high functioning group. Moderate functioning means you require some level of assistance to live independently. People in this area of the spectrum may have normal-below normal IQs and difficulty with verbal communication (either atypical language like repeating themselves or nonverbal as in using a device to speak). Moderate functioning autism is usually diagnosed in early childhood and may lead to the person receiving special education either in a general education class or in a self-contained special education classroom (depending on the IEP).
Then there is “low functioning” autism which is (you guessed it!) someone who needs a high level of assistance and can not live independently. Low functioning people may have social issues as well, but the main developmental issue with low functioning is speech and cognitive functions. Often severe deficits in verbal communication are seen and very low IQs (below 70). This group can also have extreme behavioral issues (although behavioral issues may be seen in other levels as well). And sensory overload can lead to frustrations and meltdowns (again, that is possible with the other function levels but seen mostly in low functioning).
Curve ball, people can also have aspects of “low moderate and high functioning” like being completely non-verbal but a genius at the same time! So, that’s why they call autism a spectrum!
No matter where a person falls on the spectrum, when dealing with development you want to provide them with 3 things:
· Early intervention (get services you need as early and often as possible)
· Patience (it’s a long road, take care of yourself so you can be there to take care of others)
· Love (celebrate all of your wins, to the outside world they may seem small, but in the world of autism we celebrate every win in a big way!)