Supporting a Child with High Functioning Autism

High Functioning Autism

Episode Description

While we hear a lot about autism in the news, many of us still have misconceptions about its causes and symptoms. In this episode of Mind Your Mind, therapist Falan Johnson dispels some of these misconceptions and explains the three levels of autism. Johnson then focuses on the least understood level—high functioning autism. Learn how to identify symptoms of high functioning autism in your child, the importance of early intervention, and ways you can support them.

What to Expect

  • What autism is and what it's not.
  • Signs and symptoms of autism.
  • Helpful Resources.

Resources: Learn More

  • Autism Speaks. One of the leading autism science and advocacy organizations. Autism Speaks provides a comprehensive resource guide for all states. The site also boasts an impressive list of apps that parents may find useful, including games that focus on communication and social skills.
  • "A Bird Will Soar," by Alison Green Myers. A heartfelt and hopeful debut about a bird-loving autistic child whose family's special nest is in danger of falling apart.
  • Autism Society. A national network of affiliates dedicated to connecting everyone in the autism community with the resources they need to live fully.

Things to Think About

  • How can you create an accepting and supportive environment if you think your child might have Autism Spectrum Disorder?
  • What community resources might be available to support you and your child?
  • Did you know you can't medicate autism? 

About the Guest


Falan Johnson provides therapy for children, adolescents, and young adults ages 7-25. She earned her master's degree in Social Work from the University of North Dakota and is certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Falan specializes in anxiety, depression, ADHD, trauma, stress, self-esteem, and anger. Aside from being a therapist, she is a friend, partner, dog mom, athlete, outdoor lover, and a continuous learner. Falan provides telehealth and in-person services at Dakota Family Services. Call 1-800-201-6495 to make an appointment.

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Supporting a Child with High Functioning Autism

Signs of high-functioning autism

Featuring Falan Johnson, LCSW, Dakota Family Services

Host Tim Unsinn (00:00):

Welcome to Mind Your Mind, a podcast presented by Dakota Family Services, an outpatient behavioral health clinic located in Minot, Bismarck, and Fargo, North Dakota. In this podcast, I will talk with our experts about understanding and nurturing our mental health and wellness. I'm your host, Tim Unsinn. Join me each episode as we explore the intricacies of our minds, decrease the stigma of mental illness, learn practical tips for managing our mental health and wellbeing, and recognize when it's time to ask for help. Join me now to mind your mind.

Tim (00:31):

Welcome to this episode of Mind Your Mind. Our guest is Falan Johnson. Falan is an outpatient behavioral health therapist on the Fargo campus and provides outpatient therapy for ages seven to 25. Falon, it's great to have you on Mind Your Mind. Our topic is Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, before we get to the topic, let's talk about why you do what you do.

Falan Johnson (00:54):

Oh, thanks for having me, Tim. It's great to be here. Why do I do what I do? I think if I can sum it up into a simple answer, I think it really comes down to human connection. I think we all do a little bit better when we feel connected and accepted, so if I can help people feel that way, I think we're all doing a little bit better. And I also like to see people reaching their fullest potential. So if I can help with that in any way, that's why I do what I do.

Tim (01:21):

Great answer. Back to our topic now, and that is High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder. That is a mouthful. So I'm just going to break it down into letters. What is HFASD?

Falan (01:36):

Yes, that is kind of a mouthful. So high functioning autism is a sub-category of autism spectrum disorder. So what that is, is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Basically what that means is it's just the way a person's brain works. It's the way a person is born. So if you are on the spectrum, I mean, you always were, it's just kind of who you are. And so I think sometimes people don't really understand that it's, you know, you can't catch autism, you don't get it from a traumatic event, for example. Really, it's just kind of how a person's brain works.

Tim (02:14):

You're talking about that now. What are some of the, you talked a little bit about what the causes are not.

Falan (02:20):

And so, there are some common misperceptions about what causes autism. And so I think the biggest one out there is that vaccinations cause autism. Actually, there's no substantial research to support that; there have been studies done. There's just not enough correlation there to support that. It really is truly just genetics. So sometimes it can kind of run in families, but that doesn't always mean it does. Sometimes, you know, there's only one person in the family who's on the spectrum and that's totally normal too.

Tim (02:52):

What are some of the signs and symptoms? That would probably be a bigger topic, right?

Falan (02:56):

Right. So signs and symptoms. And so I really wanted to focus in, on high functioning autism today. Because I think that's the one that people really are unaware of that's out there. And so I think a lot of times when people think of autism, they don't really realize that that there's actually three different levels on the spectrum of autism. And that is why it's on a spectrum. Right? And so there's the higher functioning more moderate functioning and then the lower functioning. There are some symptoms that are gonna be pretty consistent across the board, like rigid thinking, for example, difficulty with social interactions. It's very common with people on the spectrum to have a restricted interest, you know, maybe they're obsessed with one thing. And sometimes they're very, very good at one thing and then have weaknesses in other areas like the social piece.

Falan (03:49):

I guess what we can kind of expect to see is this is a population of people who are only requiring a little bit of support. These are our friends, these are the people who we're working with. They're all around us. Some of our really logical thinkers, like surgeons or inventors, or more, just more logical thinking people, it's not uncommon to see high functioning autism people just kind of blending in with that population. So the things to kind of look out for is some of that more rigid thinking. So sometimes they can just get really stuck on an idea and it's hard to get past things. They can get really stuck on emotions, right? So like if you're feeling really angry, that can kind of just sit for a long time.

Tim (04:29):

So I'm thinking of, would stubbornness be kind of one of those things that you, you know, we may call it stubbornness, but it may not be stubbornness. It's high functioning in that spectrum, right?

Falan (04:40):

Absolutely. Yeah. Sometimes like some of our more strong-willed kiddos or adults even. Yeah, absolutely.

Tim (04:47):

So we just have to work with them and realize that it's not their stubbornness. It's just where they are.

Falan (04:51):

It's yeah. It's just where they're at. It's just really difficult to see how to do things differently. And it doesn't mean they're not going to get there. It's just probably going to take a few different avenues. Maybe the first avenue doesn't really sit.

Tim (05:03):

Alright. How about resources? What kind of resources are available if I think I, or someone I care about, has the high functioning autism spectrum disorder.

Falan (05:14):

I think it's important to remember, if you're kind of thinking about that, ask. You know, go see a therapist, go see a psychologist, get a professional opinion because we know that the earlier the intervention, the more successful that person's going to be. You do also have to take a person, a child or adolescent's development into play, right? So, I mean, if you think of like a ten-year-old, it's not unusual for a ten-year-old to be rigid, for example, or maybe be really obsessed with a certain toy. So it's kind of ruling out, like, when is it starting to impact their functioning? That's when you might want to look at resources. So if we're getting so stuck that we can't move on in school, you know, it's probably worth talking to somebody and seeing if there are some strategies to work out. Medications can also be an option.

Falan (06:03):

And I want to stress that you cannot medicate autism, right? Because that's who you are, that's how your brain works. But what medications can help with is some of the symptoms associated with autism. So maybe helping to get a little bit more flexible thinking pattern. It's not unusual to see anxiety or depression along with autism spectrum disorder. And so medications can be really helpful to manage those symptoms. There are support groups, and I know locally, I think it's the Red River Autism Support Network... I think I'm close at least. And there can be groups for both kids or parents or loved ones with somebody on the spectrum. So just don't be afraid to ask and reach out. I think when people do, they find that it's a lot more common than they really thought.

Tim (06:56):

Yeah. I want to say one thing you mentioned, you talked about, you know, a 10 or 11-year-old, nine-year-old, finding them to be stuck where they're at. And I think, you know, we have so many great teachers within our area. I think when you do parent-teacher conferences, it's an opportunity for the teacher to say, you know, maybe something going on here, you may want to get it checked out.

Falan (07:15):

Absolutely. Yep. And it, and I just want to say too, just because somebody is rigid doesn't necessarily mean they have autism. There's gotta be that lack of social communication. That's gotta be getting in their way somehow, too. So there are a few different things to look at. But if you're seeing a few of these things all together at one time, I think, you know, reach out, try to find more information.

Tim (07:38):

Yeah. I appreciate podcasts because we can pause, rewind, play again, because there's so much information and this is such an important topic for you to understand and get to know. So Falan, thank you so much for being on Mind Your Mind. And before we let you go, we're going to ask that final question. What do you do personally, to mind your mind?

Falan (07:57):

Okay. So I'm kind of on this personal journey right now where I'm trying to make sure I get at least 10 minutes of yoga or meditation in a day. Some days I'm lucky and I've got more time to do that. Other days, you know, let's be real, life gets busy. So at least trying to get just a little bit in, I find a little bit can go a long way for just overall peace of mind and just feeling good about yourself and what you know, and how to go about your day.

Tim (08:23):

Awesome. Thank you so much for being on Mind Your Mind. Appreciate your time and your talent.

Tim (08:26):

Thank you for joining us for Mind Your Mind, a podcast presented by Dakota Family Services. You can't have health without behavioral health. Remember to mind your mind. For more information, links to additional resources, contact information, and much more go to

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