With early assessment and identification of autism improving, many children of average intelligence and with only mild language delays, but clear social differences are being diagnosed with autism at a younger age. Therefore, I have frequently been receiving questions from parents of preschool-aged children about what their children with high functioning autism will look like as older children and as adults. Below is some information and resources.

The core deficit most obvious in children with high functioning autism is theory of mind. “Theory of Mind refers to one’s ability to perceive how others think and feel and how that relates to oneself.”

The following list of strengths and weaknesses has been adapted from the Autism Speaks website:


  • Average to above average intelligence
  • Close Attention to detail
  • Often very detailed knowledge of their areas of interest
  • Usually strong visual skills


  • Difficulty perceiving other’s emotions, predicting other’s behavior and seeing how their own behavior will make others feel
  • Difficulty getting the “big picture” rather than focusing on details.
  • Difficulty understanding the rules of social interaction (e.g. conversational turn taking)
  • Difficulty taking the perspective of others
  • Difficulty with non-literal language (e.g. I’m at the end of my rope)

Temple Grandin is a wonderful example of someone with high functioning autism. She has a PhD in animal science and is a professor. She has written many books both on autism and animal welfare. She attributes her success in designing livestock facilities to her strong visual memory.

Speech-language pathologists are trained to work on social communication skills as well as abstract/figurative language. Many of the areas of weakness listed above can be addressed through explicit teaching.

Written by: Amanda Libenson
photo credit: Patrick Hoesly via photopin cc