Low Functioning Autism

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Low functioning autism is a form of autism at the most severe end of the spectrum. Individuals who have it often have extensive impairments. Many have little or no language skills and many have some level of mental retardation.

Understanding Low Functioning Autism

Low functioning, rather than high functioning autism, is a form in which people have little awareness of those around them. Individuals can have multiple impairments in virtually all areas of development. Children who have this form of autism display it differently from those at the other end of the spectrum.

  • They often have odd behaviors, rituals and gestures that are apparent to others.
  • They are more likely to self injury.
  • They have few expectations.
  • Many have severe memory impairment, unable to remember the names of people or things.
  • Many suffer from epilepsy.
  • Most children display severe disabilities and have receptive and expressive language skills, which are severely limited.

What is unfortunate is most autism research done today focuses on high functioning autism. Because of this, doctors do not have as much information or as many treatment options available to children at the opposite end of the spectrum. It is important to keep in mind that children labeled as low functioning autistic children can see improvements in their language. They can improve socially and may be able to move towards high functioning autism. This does not happen to all children, but no parent should lose hope that their child cannot see some improvement.

Comparing High Function to Low Function

Autism has an incredible range in terms of the degree of the impairment. In high functioning autism, people are socially aware and they have good language skills. They may even appear to be relatively "normal" when they meet other people. In low functioning autism, people appear to be mentally handicapped and often are socially impaired. Often, one of the best ways to assess the level of autistic symptoms is to notice how well the person is able to function in daily living.

For doctors, though, what a child or an adult appears like is not enough. They define impairment based on the IQ of the individual. Those who have an IQ that is less than 80 are considered low functioning, or LFA. Those who have an IQ greater than 80 are classified (and treated) for high functioning autism, or HFA.

In evaluating the treatment options for someone with autism, doctors often use a scale. Classification based on IQ testing can help individuals to tailor their education and daily living requirements. IQ classification is not an exact science and often parents find that it does not provide enough understanding of the children themselves.

  • Educable: Those with an IQ score from 55 to 70.
  • Trainable: Those with an IQ score from 40 to 70.
  • Severely Limited: Those with an IQ score from 25 to 40.
  • Profound: Those with an IQ score under 25.

Areas of Focus

Children with low functioning autism often have a number of problems.

Low Functioning Autism Challenges
  • Educational Opportunities: Educational goals for children with the low form of autism should be structured around visual stimulation. Educational programs should incorporate an IEP tailored to the severity of the child's autism, based on the scale above.
  • Physical Limitations: Some children with this form do have physical challenges including with height, weight and skeletal maturity problems.
  • Behavior Limitations: Those with some level of retardation will have more emotional and limited social abilities. Cooperative learning is often necessary. Peer rejection can be incredibly difficult for the individual.
  • Achievement Abilities: Most children with low function do fall behind other children at their age. Some will simply remain three or more years behind peers while others will not progress past a sixth grade education (some only to second grade.)
  • Functional Skills: Individuals with this form of autism will struggle to accomplish goals, but they can do so, both in a work relationship and in school. Many can improve skills both orally and in writing.

Those who believe their child is suffering from low functioning autism should not consider this a final sentence because there are opportunities for improvement in each of these areas. Many of these children can improve and reach higher levels.

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Low Functioning Autism