Myths & Facts

MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT “HIGH-FUNCTIONING” AUTISM, ASPERGER’S SYNDROME, PDD-NOS 

Myth:  People with “higher-functioning” Autism Spectrum Disorders have a mild disability and need next to nothing in the way of support.

Fact:  People with “high functioning” Autism Spectrum Disorders are often quite severely disabled.  They need support and services in the areas of relationships, social care, living skills, respite and community integration, health, housing, education, employment, etc.  “High-functioning” means that they are higher functioning than other people with Autism Spectrum Disorders, not that they are high functioning in relation to the typical population.

 

Myth:  HF ASD is significantly different than autism.

Fact:  Asperger’s Syndrome and PDD-NOS and high-functioning Autism are forms of autism.  They are Autistic Spectrum Disorders.  Asperger individuals exhibit autistic-like behaviours, including some stereotypic behaviours, perseveration, self-absorption, fixation on certain subjects or activities, and so on.[1]  They have deficiencies in functioning like autism.  Basically, people with high functioning Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and PDD-NOS can talk with relative fluency.

 

Myth:  HF ASD is just a learning disability like ADHD or Dyslexia.

Fact:   There are significant differences in brain development from age 8 – 10 months for all people on the Autism Spectrum.  High-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder affects many, many areas.  For instance, it often affects the person’s physical coordination.  It affects the person’s ability to receive information from their senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, proprioception and vestibular sense.  People with learning disabilities are often able to function well in social situations, whereas, those with ASDs aren’t.  Even when specifically taught, HF ASD individuals do not learn relationship and social skills as quickly as others.[2]

 

What is Intelligence?

“Intelligence” is a general mental ability representing the global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with the environment. (Niolon, Richard, Ph.D)

 

What areas of intelligence does Asperger’s Syndrome, high-functioning Autism or PDD-NOS affect?

  • Perception
  • Focusing attention
  • Learning, particularly learning practical skills of daily life 
  • Memory
  • Imagination and Abstract Thinking
  • Restricted Interests
  • Sequencing
  • Understanding Cause and Effect
  • Multi-tasking
  • Organization
  • Prioritizing
  • Adapting to Change (Extreme Reliance on Routine)
  • Productivity
  • Decision Making
  • Problem Solving
  • Generalization to other people, other places and other situations, even though the situation may appear to be the same to neuro-typical people, to the person on the Autistic Spectrum they may appear totally different, so the learning from one situation does not transfer to the other
  • Communication
  • Central Coherence – seeing the “big picture”
  • Perspective Taking – Understanding that other people physically see and hear different things than you do, as well as having different thoughts, feelings and experiences
  • Identifying Emotions in Self and Others
  • Managing Emotions and Stress

 

Myth:  IQ scores and intelligence are the same thing.

Fact:  No, they are not.  “Intelligence” is a general mental ability representing the global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with the environment.[3]  These are the areas that people with Asperger’s Syndrome, and high-functioning Autism or PDD-NOS are impaired.

 

Myth:  AS/HFA individuals have IQ in the low average, average to above average range, so they are not intellectually disabled.

Fact:  Often, there are discrepancies between the verbal IQ and performance IQ and they have deficiencies in specific subtests, which means that the total IQ score is invalid.  They are often impaired in using what they know in meaningful ways.  They often have significant intellectual problems in learning, understanding and applying a variety of types of knowledge and skills, even though they may be able to memorize large amounts of information.

 

Myth:  People with high functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorders are able to get jobs and be self-supporting.

Fact:  Ninety percent of these individuals are unemployed in adulthood[4], whereas, 36 percent of people with mental retardation have part-time or full-time jobs.  It takes longer for people with Asperger’s Syndrome and high-functioning Autism or PDD-NOS to master job tasks, but supervisors often don’t allow additional time to spend with them.  They tend to think the employee is being lazy, is too slow and not motivated to perform, rather than realizing that their difficulties are due to their disability.  Job coaching programs can provide specialists who help in the initial training.  When they are in their 40’s, half of the people with higher-functioning ASDs are still living with their parents.[5]  Homelessness – in the U.S. studies have shown that 15 – 20 percent of the homeless have Autistic Spectrum Disorders, including “high functioning” individuals.

 

Myth:  People with “high-functioning” Autism Spectrum Disorders are not disabled in language.

Fact:  They are disabled in abstract language, metaphors, similes, idioms, figures of speech, words with multiple meanings, and when more than one word has the same meaning.  They are disabled when it comes to understanding gestures, eye contact and voice tone and body language, therefore they often don’t understand many things such as jokes and sarcasm.  They often don’t understand how the meaning can be modified by intonation.

 

Myth:  People with high functioning ASDs are higher functioning in all areas than people with lower functioning Autism.

Fact:  These individuals have strong splinter skills in some areas, while being very low-functioning in others.  There are some individuals with high functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorders who can’t take public transit, whereas, some individuals with lower functioning Autism can. Professional caregivers consistently underestimate the poor quality of life of people with high functioning autistic disorders.  Even parents of a child with lower functioning autism may feel that parents of a child who are higher functioning should be thankful that their child can carry on a conversation and appear to be ‘normal’.

What about the other side of the coin?  As an example, a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome comments that he has observed the lower functioning autistic individuals participate in activities with their respite worker and they don’t have to worry about the bully waiting in the wings ready to pounce on anyone less fortunate.  On other occasions he watches ‘normal’ people go about their lives and wonders why he can’t fit in.  He spends most of his time in isolation.  He refers to himself as “an alien from another planet trapped on this one”.

There is a higher risk of depression and suicide in children and adult with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder than there is in the neurologically typical population.

 

Myth:  Asperger’s Syndrome is just a social disability. 

Fact:  People with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism or PDD-NOS report that sensory processing problems causes them the most difficulty in life.  Imagine the noisiest, most crowded, place you have ever been with flashing lights, colours changing all the time, uneven floor and one eye covered so you have no depth perception, strangers grabbing you to yell at you, and your clothes itch, bind and are incredibly uncomfortable.  Now multiply by ten.  That’s often what a regular day in the classroom, walking in a mall, taking the bus or visiting family is like for the person with so-called “high-functioning” ASD.

 

Myth:  There’s no hope.

Fact:  The kinds of things that help people with ASD can help everyone else.  We make the world a better place by learning from people with ASD more about the human condition.  And they bring their talents to the rest of us – noticing the details that others skip over, and feeling things intensely that others put in the background.  People with ASD often have talents in (1) Visual areas such as art and engineering, (2) Math and Music, or (3) Encyclopedic knowledge in their areas of interest.  With the right help they can work, play, have friends & have a great life.



[1] Mamen, Maggie, Ph.D., C.Psych;  Nonverbal Learning Disabilities and Their Clinical Subtypes, page 32

[2] Mamen, Maggie, Ph.D., C.Psych.; Nonverbal Learning Disabilities and Their Clinical Subtypes, page 32

[3] Niolon, Richard, Ph.D.; 08/04

[4] Bovee, Jean-Paul; Adult Issues and Perspectives

[5] Wormack, Sarah; Families With Autistic Adults Need More Help Says Charity; Filed 17/05/2004

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Disclaimer

Autism Calgary does not support, endorse or recommend any method, treatment, product, remedial center, program or person for people with autism or autism related conditions. It does, however, endeavour to inform because it believes in the right to have access to the information available and to make individual choices.

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I Have Autism

"I have Autism. I may not look unusual, but I experience the world much differently than you do. Autism makes it difficult for me to communicate with you, and sometimes causes me to have unusual behaviour. I am doing my very best. Please be patient with me and my caregivers, who are trying to give me a full and happy life."