Does My Student Have High-Functioning Autism?

“I’m a teacher and I think one of my students may have high functioning autism. What things should I look for in determining whether or not this child may have the disorder? Also, is it too early to approach the parents about my concern?”

If you have a basic knowledge of the symptoms associated with high-functioning autism (HFA), and based on that knowledge, you suspect the disorder in one of your students, advise the parents of your concern now. It’s better to know than not to know, and the sooner treatment can begin - the better!

If the student in question is having a greater degree of language difficulties than other peers his/her age or has diminished communication skills, and also exhibits a restrictive pattern of thought and behavior, he/she may have HFA. 
One peculiar symptom of the disorder is the youngster’s obsessive interest in a single object or topic to the exclusion of any other. The youngster living with HFA wants to know all about this one topic.

Here are a few more traits to look for:
  • Although kids on the autism spectrum can manage themselves with their disorder, the personal relationships and social situations are challenging for them. 
  • These young people have some traits of Autism, especially weak social skills and a preference for sameness and routine. 
  • Kids with HFA typically develop a good to excellent vocabulary, although they usually lack the social instincts and practical skills needed when relating to others. 
  • They may not recognize verbal and non-verbal cues or understand social norms (e.g., taking turns talking or grasping the concept of personal space). 
  • They typically make efforts to establish friendships, but may have difficulty making friends because of their social awkwardness. 
  • Developmental delays in motor skills (e.g., catching a ball, climbing outdoor play equipment, pedaling a bike, etc.) may also appear in the youngster.

 ==> A comprehensive list of traits associated with HFA can be found here.

The main difference between Autism and HFA is that the youngster suffering from HFA retains his early language skills. It is classified as an Autism Spectrum Disorder, one of a distinct group of neurological conditions characterized by a greater or lesser degree of impairment in language and communication skills, as well as repetitive or restrictive patterns of thought and behavior. 
Unlike young people with Autism, HFA kids retain their early language skills. In Autistic kids, language is often absent, lost, limited, or very slow to develop. In HFA, however, language development often falls within normal limits.

Advise your student’s parents that many moms and dads find comfort and build acceptance with help from support groups, counseling, and a network of friends, family, and community. A diagnosis is best made with input from caregivers, doctors, and educators who know or who have observed the youngster. 
A diagnosis is based on a careful history of the youngster’s development, psychological and psychiatric assessments, communication tests, and the parents’ and clinicians’ shared observations. When making a diagnosis, the health professional will see if the boy or girl meets the criteria published in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a publication of the American Psychiatric Association.

You can best serve this student by learning about HFA and providing a supportive classroom environment (see link below). Remember, the student, just like every other youngster, has his or her own strengths and weaknesses and needs as much support, patience, and understanding as you can give. Visual supports, including schedules and other written materials that serve as organizational aids, can be very helpful for students on the autism spectrum.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


•    Anonymous said... I sure one of my son's teachers had mentioned it to me. He didn't get diagnosed until he was 11, and so missed out on early treatment and intervention. After he was diagnosed I had teachers, coaches and other parents say "I thought that might be it"...why oh why didn't they say anything? I had never even heard of it before.
•    Anonymous said... My daughter was recently diagnosed at 4. Her preschool teachers brought it to my attention. We dismissed it because we didn't see Autism. Then...when we read and did some research, it hit us like a ton of bricks that almost everything mentioned was her to a tee. Do it gently and explain to the parents that this is not a bad thing, and she/he will lead a normal life. Aspies just approach things differently. They see life differently.
•    Anonymous said... Teachers should approach this discussion with a positive attitude and lightly. As someone who was thrown this "he has autism" in kindergarten, I was angry and unconvinced. I didn't know really anything about Aspergers/high functioning autism, and I dismissed the discussion until second grade when a much more polite discussion was brought to me about my son's habits and issues. As a parent, I didn't know that a talking, caring, sensitive and smart child could be aspergers/autistic. The best thing I did to convince myself was to go over to school and observe my son at recess. I then did alot of research and started checking off symptoms...this combined is what convinced me.

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