I’ve been skipping around this topic for a while as high functioning autism is a term that is no longer “officially” used so it can sound controversial to use it about yourself, as though to try and distinguish or distance yourself from the other autistic people, which is not what I intend to so. This year, more so than any other of my life, has been the one where I came fully to terms with my own autism by daring to observe, without filters or denial, all the many ways that autism and other neurodivergent traits such as ADHD, giftedness, high sensitivity and synaesthesia, manifest in my unique case. In fact, this blog (which was initially begun as an outlet for discussing chronic health conditions) has become almost completely focussed on the topic of neurodivergence as a result; partly because I now relate all my health challenges to my long-time undiagnosed autism and the effect that has had on my life and sense of self.

As a result of that process, I have come to realise, again and again, that autism is a spectrum that plays out within me, as in, I have a range of strengths/gifts and also deficits/weak spots across different areas of my life; therefore, the spectrum isn’t something that I live on so much as something internalised and which I span, from one end to the other. If you were to meet me in the context of some of my numerous strong points you might be forgiven for not realising I am autistic at all; yet, in some areas, I struggle painfully and can barely get by or rely on others to help me plug the gaps. Not only that but I am now acutely aware of how much I over-compensate for myself by “seeming” to get by when I’m not and this has taken a great toll on my life and health yet it is something I would not have been capable to doing (nor would I have found those others to lean on, nor made my life so successfully avoidant of tasks I can’t cope with) if it were not for the fact I am so high-functioning. I have become a master of survival in my own neurodivergent life!

So the fact remains, some of us still fit the description “high-functioning” and no other descriptor will do so (awkward topic or not) this requires more clarity being made of it than I have previously offered. This is a precarious area of autism to look into because those with it may so easily pass as neurotypical because of the fact they overcompensate for their neurological differences. As a result, they often remain undiagnosed (especially in the case of girls and women) and, should they happen to realise at some point that they are indeed autistic (typically as a result of hearing someone else’s account of traits and experiences and having a lightbulb moment of realisation that wakes them up to the fact…in fact when this happens it can often seem “so obvious” that you wonder how you missed it for all these years) then they may find that other people in their life refuse to accept the diagnosis because they don’t “look” autistic or fit some sort of stereotype due to having a “normal” life with a family, a career, some friends etc; they may even throw in your face all the things you’ve achieved. This factor that can cause a great deal of additional pain and distress on top of making such a major life adjustment after, often, years or decades of living in the dark.

For instance, the post I shared yesterday about my social deficits which, for the larger part of my life, have remained completely invisible to both myself and to others (to the point I have frequently denied I even have them…and thus doubted my own autism) is as a direct result of being so highly-functioning that I have made a lifelong study of what is socially appropriate. In other words, I know exactly how people are “supposed” to behave, in fact I could write a dissertation on the topic, and have made a life’s work of behaving in conformity to that…but that doesn’t detract from the fact it has never felt natural or reasonable to me to have to conform to neurotypical ways, nor the fact that doing so has depleted me of my health, my vitality and my ability to thrive at certain times in my life. Through coming to terms with my neurodivergence and, yes, high-functioning autism (and notwithstanding a period of mourning as I came to terms with all those lost decades of navigating in the dark) I have been able to reconcile most of the past events and traumas of my life and finally come to know and appreciate myself, exactly as I am. My wish is that as many people as possible, who have felt as lost as I once did, get to do this too; possibly as a result of reading other accounts like mine and happening upon the right resources.

So in this case, rather than repeat what has already been done so well, I have decided to refer you to a post by Imi Lo of Eggshell Transformations podcast (one of my favourites). Maybe its because I still feel somewhat uncomfortable labelling myself “high-functioning” (though I don’t really think so) or perhaps I just prefer to defer to the expertise of a highly-functioning autistic coach who works with high-functioning, gifted and intense neurodivergent individuals herself. Either way, her article “High Functioning Autism – Different Not Less” covers this topic very thoroughly and feels like a reference point that may be useful to some of my readership; people such as the gifted/neurodivergent woman who emailed me today to say that reading my post “Could you be a twice-exceptional adult?” had taken her breath away, helping her to feel so anchored and hopeful. If my blog is attracting people like that then I want them to be able to find the right resources, quickly and easily. If referencing other materials that have helped me means that I can help them too then here goes.

In the attached post, Imi singles out certain traits that may indicate high-functioning autism: Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity, Sensory Hypersensitivity, Attachment to Routines, Repetition and Restrictive Habits, Strong Interests or Fixations on Specific Things, Feeling Different All Your Life and Language Precocity. She covers the link with Giftedness and High Sensitivity, which are potential cross-over traits. She discusses some of the myths that have been applied to High-Functioning autism, such as Lack of Empathy, Imagination or Creativity, not feeling Emotions, Savant traits, a supposed lack of interest in Social engagement (which is such nonsense, as I discussed in yesterday’s post). She then finishes off with a rather brilliant letter of encouragement to “Neuro-atypical souls” which is a sort of manifesto of all the quirks we possess (she offers such a brilliant description!) and a reminder to take care of the way we are made and to stand by it, going forwards. I hope you get as much out of reading it as I did and I will now add it to my Neurodivergent Resources page for ease of reference.

My related posts:

Could you be a twice-exceptional adult?

Highly intelligent, highly intense, highly sensitive person


Two horse buggy: learning to drive the double horse team of autism and ADHD

Another kind of mind

2 thoughts on “High-functioning

  1. I still have the experience of looking through memories and discovering, “Oh! That was my autism!” as a way of understanding all the the hard nuts I couldn’t crack before. Identification makes all the difference!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that experience seems to be common to all of us later diagnosed women, in fact one of the podcasts I follow is actually called “Oh, that’s just my autism”. It’s like the light gets turned on in a room that we’ve been feeling our way around for years.


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