High-functioning autism (HFA) is not a formal diagnosis but a term many doctors, teachers, and researchers use. This group functions at a very high level, as do children with Asperger’s Disorder, but they also have some symptoms consistent with autism. Where to draw the line between HFA and Asperger’s Disorder is not at all clear, and no criteria exist to distinguish between the two. Some professionals believe they are one and the same, so the term HFA should be eliminated. Others, however, see Asperger’s Disorder as simply a very high level of autism.
The language used to label these disorders can be incredibly confusing. You may be told your child has autism, a high-functioning form of autism on the autism spectrum called Asperger’s. How do you tell which it is, and does it really matter?
The difference between autism and Asperger’s Disorder matters a lot. Prognosis, school placement, and services available are very different for autism than Asperger’s Disorder. Materials that you read, techniques you use for parenting, and support groups you will become involved in all differ substantially as well.
However, distinctions between HFA and Asperger’s Disorder may be less important. Provided your child is getting the proper services to address his symptoms, the exact label has less meaning. It is important that those working with your child follow the philosophy of “treat the child, not the diagnosis.”