What is Mild Autism?

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  • Written By: C. K. Lanz
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2019
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Mild or high-functioning autism is a form of the pervasive developmental disorder characterized by symptoms that are less severe and conspicuous than most other cases. As a result, children with mild autism may not manifest any observable symptoms until they are at least three years old. Unlike typical autistic individuals, those with mild autism can develop adequate speech, have normal or exceptional intelligence, and be comparatively high functioning. Research has demonstrated that in some cases children with mild autism can recover if exposed to early therapeutic intervention.

A person who is considered to be mildly autistic can seem high functioning in comparison to those with classic autism. Mildly autistic people generally develop normal speaking ability, can read and write, and play and do chores. In rare cases, such individuals can be successful university students and live independently.

Individuals with mild autism commonly have normal speaking ability but can have difficultly initiating or prolonging a conversation. Humor and social cues can be hard but not impossible to grasp. Mildly autistic people can also focus on a single subject and discuss it at length regardless of the original topic of conversation.


Reciting facts or details or quoting at length from books or movies is another common behavior of people with mild autism. For example, a mildly autistic person may respond to a question about school or the weather by naming all the parts in a refrigerator. As a result, children and adults with mild autism may find it challenging to make friends with others.

A child who is mildly autistic may fixate on an object such as a toy to such a degree that he or she becomes oblivious to anyone else nearby. Eye contact may be difficult to maintain for those with mild autism. Additional behaviors of mild autism can include underdeveloped motor skills, a lack of empathy for others, and sensory problems.

Although some medical professionals argue that mild autism is indistinguishable from Asperger’s syndrome, there is no consensus among doctors. Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome display many behaviors associated with mild or high functioning autism such as impaired social interaction and limited interests. Additionally, those with Asperger’s generally do not suffer from delayed speech or cognitive development.

Studies have shown that children with mild autism may be able to recover from the disorder if they are exposed to rigorous therapeutic intervention early. Applied behavioral analysis, a therapy that focuses on improving behaviors and skills, may have the greatest effect on autistic individuals. Even if a child is able to recover from autism, he or she may be at a higher risk for related conditions including anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and depression.


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