What is High-Functioning Autism?

Since 2013, high-functioning ASD is no longer an official diagnosis, but it has continued to be used at times by the lay public to differentiate between levels of functioning or clinical severity. It is an informal term that has been used to describe people with autism who can live independently and function “normally” in certain areas of their life, but not necessarily occupationally and socially.

So just what is high-functioning autism? High-functioning autism is more similar to the current diagnosis of ASD level 1, where patients require less support than those patients with more impairments. However, impairments in social interactions and restrictive repetitive behavior are disruptive and limiting in everyday life. [i] [ii]

For example, individuals with Level 1 ASD may have full language ability, but they may not be able to read social cues appropriately, nor engage in reciprocal conversations, and thusly they may have difficulty making and keeping friends, etc.

They may also have trouble transitioning from one activity to another, as well as problems with executive functioning such as organization and planning. [iii] [iv]

The Drake Institute uses advanced treatment technologies to create customized treatment protocols for patients with autism. Brain map-guided neurofeedback and neurostimulation help our ASD patients reduce symptoms and lead more fulfilling and successful lives.

For more information regarding our non-drug treatment programs, call us at 800-700-4233 or fill out the contact form.

What Is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that ranges from mild to severe and includes repetitive behaviors, impaired social communication, restricted interests, and rigidity.

Autistic individuals typically struggle significantly with social interactions, and developing meaningful relationships, and they may also exhibit restricted interests.

In 2013, the DSM-5 recategorized autism as Autism Spectrum Disorder. This new spectrum includes former diagnoses like Asperger’s Disorder, childhood disintegration disorder, and PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified).

No singular cause has been identified in relation to autism, but there could be genetic, environmental, or other factors involved. It affects all ethnicities equally, though minorities are often diagnosed less often or later in life.

The disorder affects people differently, and not everyone will have all the symptoms. The severity of the disorder will determine whether it is considered a high- or low-functioning case, or what the DSM V refers to as Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3 ASD.

What does high-functioning autism look like? There are no physical differences associated with ASD. In other words, you won’t be able to tell a person is autistic by physical appearance.

How is Autism Diagnosed?

Identifying signs of autism begins with monitoring developmental milestones. This is when parents, grandparents, childcare workers, and teachers monitor the child’s developmental progress.

This kind of monitoring will also be done at regular well-child visits with your pediatrician. The doctor or nurse will ask about your child’s behavior, communication, and socialization. Specific and thorough answers will help them decide if further assessment or evaluation is warranted.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends developmental and behavioral screenings at 9, 18, and 30 months, to ensure that developmental milestones are met. AAP also suggests performing ASD-specific screenings at 18 and 24 months. The earlier autism is detected, the earlier intervention can be initiated. Early intervention can lead to better outcomes for patients.

If the developmental screening reveals that autism is likely, you should seek an ASD evaluation. This formal examination will assess whether the child meets the criteria for an ASD diagnosis based on DSM-5 criteria. [v]

What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Autism?

Symptoms of autism can appear as early as within the first year of a child’s life, and according to the CDC, a reliable autism diagnosis can be made at just two years old. [vi]

Signs of high-functioning or Level 1 Autism may not be as easily identified in some patients, which could result in a later diagnosis and clinical intervention. The child may already have been diagnosed with ADHD, but ASD level 1 symptoms may not have been recognized by the family.

What makes high-functioning autism different? These individuals may be able to function somewhat effectively in certain areas of their life, but still experience social impairments and limitations.

According to the CDC, some common signs and symptoms of autism include the following:[vii]

  • Avoids eye contact
  • Doesn’t respond to name by 9 months of age
  • Lack of facial expressions (e.g., happy, sad, angry, etc.) by 9 months of age
  • Doesn’t play simple interactive games (e.g., pat-e-cake) by 12 months of age
  • Uses few or no hand gestures (e.g., doesn’t wave hello or goodbye) by 12 months of age
  • Doesn’t share interests with others (e.g., doesn’t show you their favorite toy) by 15 months of age
  • Doesn’t point to show you something interesting by 18 months of age
  • Doesn’t notice when others are hurt or upset by 24 months of age
  • Doesn’t notice other children and play with them by 36 months of age
  • Doesn’t pretend to be someone else (e.g., teacher, superhero, etc.) by 48 months of age
  • Doesn’t sing, act, or dance for you by 60 months of age

How have Autism & Asperger’s Diagnoses Changed?

Autism was long considered a separate diagnosis from similar disorders like Asperger’s, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and childhood disintegration disorder. In 2013, however, the DSM-5 reclassified these disorders under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The manual states: “Individuals with a well-established DSM-IV diagnosis of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified should be given the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.” [viii]

Is The Term “high-functioning autism” Still Used Today?

“High-functioning autism” is no longer an officially recognized medical term or diagnosis, but it is still used by the lay public to describe individuals with less severe forms of autism that may be categorized as ASD Level 1 in some cases.

The term is generally used to describe a person with autism that can still function in daily life. However, this term can be misleading; high-functioning autistic people can still struggle with social interaction, maintaining eye contact, or holding a conversation. They may also exhibit other symptoms that can interfere with work, academics, and relationships. Strict adherence to a routine or repetitive habit can become disruptive. [ix]

How Does The Drake Institute Treat Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder can be significantly improved with the appropriate treatment protocols. The Drake Institute uses advanced treatment technologies such as brain map-guided neurofeedback and neurostimulation to improve the symptoms of autism.

Treatments are non-drug and noninvasive, making them safe for children, teens, and adults. Moreover, these treatments address the underlying dysregulation of the brain linked to symptoms.

Brain Mapping

The Drake Institute uses qEEG brain mapping to guide treatment. In this stage, our Medical Director analyzes the patient’s brainwave activity to identify dysregulation linked to symptoms. To do this, we record brainwave activity from 19 sensors placed around the patient’s scalp.

This brainwave activity is then processed through an FDA-registered normative database of neurotypical individuals’ brain activity to determine if any neural networks are dysregulated that are linked to the patient’s symptoms. 


Neurofeedback therapy is the next step in treating autism in boys and girls. After analyzing the patient’s brain map, our Medical Director creates a customized neurofeedback treatment protocol to help improve the patient’s specific symptoms.

These treatment protocols help reduce symptoms of autism by enabling the patient to guide their brain activity to more functionally appropriate patterns. To maximize improvement in some patients, biomedical abnormalities may also need to be ruled out or identified and addressed.


In addition to neurofeedback, we may also use neurostimulation guided by qEEG brain map findings to gently stimulate the brain into healthier functional patterns. In our clinical experience, some patients may benefit even more from neurofeedback if we also include neurostimulation. We have found this to be particularly helpful for patients with more severe autism symptoms. 

Contact The Drake Institute Today!

For over forty years, Drake has helped patients with various disorders such as autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, migraine headaches, and hypertension to reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Call us at 1-800-700-4233 or fill out the free consultation form.


[i] https://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-diagnosis-criteria-dsm-5

[ii] https://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-diagnosis-criteria-dsm-5

[iii] https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/high-functioning-autism

[iv] https://psychcentral.com/autism/high-functioning-autism-symptoms#about-high-functioning-autism

[v] https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/screening.html

[vi] https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/screening.html

[vii] https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html

[viii] https://www.autismspeaks.org/dsm-5-and-autism-frequently-asked-questions

[ix] https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/high-functioning-autism

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dr david velkoff headshot

“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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