Why The Term “High-Functioning Autism” Can Be Misleading

High functioning Autism Discouraged

Raising a child is an incredible journey, filled with unique joys and challenges. If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), you likely have many questions. ASD is a developmental difference that affects how people process information, relate to others, and experience the world. It's important to remember that Autism exists on a spectrum, so every child's experience is individual. You should also know that the term "high-functioning autism" (HFA) is falling out of favour with many professionals. This is because it can be misleading. Focusing on labels can overshadow your child's unique strengths and needs.

Through this blog, we'll explore the many aspects of ASD and provide you with resources to help your child thrive.

Problems with "High-Functioning"

You might be wondering why we're moving away from terms like ‘high-functioning autism’ (HFA). Autism affects how a person interacts with the world, not just their intellectual ability. Your child might excel in certain areas but struggle with social interaction, sensory processing, routines, or emotional regulation. These challenges can be significant, regardless of IQ.

The term HFA can create the impression that someone doesn't need much support. This simply isn't true. Even individuals with ASD who are verbal and seemingly ‘high-functioning’ might need help navigating social situations, managing anxiety, or staying organised. If you believe your child is ‘high-functioning’, you might hesitate to seek out therapy or support services. However, early intervention and ongoing support can make a big difference to your child's overall well-being and success.

Labels like ‘high-functioning autism’ can also lead to negative self-talk for autistic individuals themselves. They might feel like they ‘should’ be able to handle situations that are actually difficult for them. This can be discouraging and lead to frustration.

Alternative Approaches to Understanding and Talking about Autism

One of the most important things to remember about Autism Spectrum Disorder is that it truly exists on a spectrum. This means there's a wide range of how autism presents itself in different individuals. Your child might have very different strengths, challenges, and experiences compared to another autistic child.

This variation is what makes autism spectrum terminology so important. Focusing on labels like ‘high-functioning’ can overshadow this individuality. Instead, focus on understanding your child's unique profile within the spectrum. This will help you tailor support strategies to their specific needs and strengths.

Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting someone with ASD. What works for one child might not work for another. The key is to find a team of professionals who can create an individualised plan that addresses your child's specific challenges and helps them thrive. Let's delve into empowering approaches to understand and support your child on the autism spectrum:

Focus on Support Needs:

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) categorises ASD into three levels based on support needs. This framework can be a helpful tool to identify the specific areas where your child might require assistance. For instance, they might need more support with social interaction (Level 3) or communication (Level 2), while excelling in areas categorised under Level 1 (requiring minimal support). Remember, these categories aren't fixed; your child's needs may evolve over time.

Embrace Identity-First Language:

Many autistic individuals prefer identity-first language, such as ‘autistic person’ instead of ‘person with autism’. This emphasises that autism is a fundamental part of their identity, not just a diagnosis. Using their preferred language shows respect and creates a more inclusive environment.

Strengths-Based Approach:

It's crucial to remember that ASD isn't solely about challenges. Your child likely possesses unique strengths and talents that deserve to be celebrated! A strengths-based approach focuses on these positive qualities and helps your child build upon them. This might involve nurturing their passions, interests, and areas where they excel. Perhaps your child has a remarkable memory for trivia or an exceptional artistic ability. By recognising and encouraging these strengths, you can boost their confidence and self-esteem.


Moving away from labels like ‘high-functioning autism’ allows us to focus on the unique strengths and challenges of each autistic individual. By understanding your child's specific support needs and embracing their identity, you can create a supportive and empowering environment for them to thrive.

Here at Nisarga Herbs, we understand that parents are constantly seeking ways to support their children's overall well-being.  There are many resources available to help you on your journey of supporting your child.  Nisarga Herbs’ Nurosmart Syrup is an all-natural, ayurvedic blend formulated to address some of the common challenges faced by children on the autism spectrum. It is a blend of seven ayurvedic herbs that has been clinically shown to help reduce hyperactivity and improve concentration in children. It may be helpful for autistic children who struggle with focus, attention, or hyperactivity.
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Dr. Arati Soman

Dr. Arati Soman is a seasoned Ayurvedic physician and Head Formulator at Nisarga Herbs. Driven by a deep passion for Ayurveda and vast expertise, she has been instrumental in formulating medicines, diagnostic procedures, and innovative Ayurvedic treatments that are trusted globally.