Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders

pp 1504-1507

High-Functioning Autism (HFA)

  • Joshua DiehlAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Notre Dame Email author 
  • , Karen TangAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Notre Dame
  • , Brynn ThomasAffiliated withThe Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Laboratory, Laboratory for Understanding Neurodevelopment, Northwestern University, and the University of Notre Dame


High-functioning autism is a term used to refer to a subset of individuals on the autism spectrum who have cognitive and/or linguistic abilities that are in the average to above average range for their age. It is common for the acronym “HFA” to be used in place of the full term to describe individuals in this range of functioning.

Historical Background

In the first characterizations of the disorder, both Kanner and Asperger noted the average to above average intellectual capabilities in the individuals they observed, despite the significant social deficits that they displayed. Kanner argued explicitly in several papers that the deficits he saw were separable from intellectual disability, and that most of the children he encountered were of average to above average intelligence. Interestingly, Asperger used the “special gifts” of the children he observed to advocate for their protection from the Nazi eugenics movement (Feinstein, 2010).

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