High Functioning Autism in Toddlers

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects behavior and social interactions, and can present in varying degrees along a spectrum. High functioning autism is an autism spectrum disorder, and it is typically detected, or at least suspected, during the toddler years 1. Some medical professionals consider it to be the same as Asperger’s syndrome, while others draw distinctions between the two conditions. Toddlers with the higher functioning forms of autism usually do not have the language delays that more severely autistic children have.

Signs of High Functioning Autism

Toddlers who have high functioning autism will often have delays in developing motor skills, will have difficulty interacting with others, and may appear to not understand humor and abstract language, according to Web MD 1. They may have an obsessive interest in specific items, and have no interest in sharing toys or playing with other children. Strong reactions to certain sounds, textures, smells or other stimuli are common in toddlers with high functioning autism. A toddler may cover her ears or run from the room when she hears a dog barking or a doorbell. She may have difficulty making eye contact with others when talking to them.

Difficulty of Detection in Toddlers

Since some of the characteristics that children with high functioning autism lack are not developed until after the toddler years, it can be difficult to diagnose high functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome in toddlers 1. You may realize that there is an issue before your child is 2 years old, but you may not receive an accurate diagnosis at that young age. Often, toddlers who are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder may later receive a diagnosis of high functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome, according to Disabled World 1.


Treatment for high function autism is similar to that for other autism spectrum disorders but may be less intense 2. Applied behavior analysis, which rewards appropriate behavior and communication skills, is the prevalent treatment method for autism spectrum disorders, according to HealthyChildren.org 2. For maximum effect, this type of program should be started as soon as possible. Other treatment programs may also be effective, such as Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children – TEACCH – which is a structured method of teaching coping skills and communication. This method takes advantage of the memorization and visual skills that are present in most children with autism.

Changes as the Child Grows

Since high functioning autism is a developmental disorder, symptoms will often change as the child matures. HealthyChildren.org says that, while most children who are diagnosed with high functioning autism as toddlers will continue to have this or a similar diagnosis, some will progress to the point where they will no longer be considered to be on the autism spectrum, although they may have other, less pervasive, diagnoses 2.