Several factors contribute to why some individuals with high functioning ASD may struggle with independence, despite their high intellectual abilities.

Even though I have a clinical diagnosis of autism and have been fully independent since moving out of my parents’ home at age 22, I still sometimes don’t understand how other Autistics who are considered “very high functioning” need help with adulting or self-sufficiency.

Now, I’m not talking about help with learning how to change the oil of their car or assistance with doing their taxes or planning their finances.

These don’t fall under the category of adulting, and many highly educated neurotypicals seek professionals to conduct these tasks for them.

I’m talking about being self-sufficient in the tasks of daily living; being independent, not needing help with grocery shopping, cooking, banking, making doctor appointments, filling out forms, managing medication, navigating public transportation, etc.

Fact is, there’s a spectrum within the Spectrum: that of being high functioning.

I realize the term high functioning doesn’t sit well with many Autists, but I’m using it here so that all readers will more understand what I’m referring to.

In no particular order, here are reasons those with HFA may not always be independent with living skills.

Social Communication Challenges

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People with HFA often experience difficulties in social interactions and communication.

This includes not understanding or missing social cues, trouble engaging in small talk and struggles with forming relationships.

These challenges can make it hard to navigate work environments, maintain friendships and engage in community activities, which are crucial for independent living.

Lucky for me, most of my jobs were in lines of work where one could get away with lacking social skills and misreading cues.

In fact, sometimes small talk among coworkers was discouraged by power hungry bosses who couldn’t tolerate seeing someone “goof off” for only a few minutes.

Executive Functioning Deficits

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Executive functions are cognitive processes that include planning, organization, time management and decision-making.

Individuals with HFA often have impairments in these areas, making everyday tasks like managing finances, keeping a job or maintaining a household more challenging.

I was told by an autism assessment psychologist that only a small percentage of Autistics have normal executive functioning.

We also must consider that many, if not the vast majority, of autistic people also have ADHD, which in itself affects executive function.

I have not come upon any data on what percentage of those with only an ASD diagnosis are fully independent, vs. those with also the ADHD diagnosis (often referred to as AuDHD).

Sensory Sensitivities

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Many individuals with high functioning ASD have heightened sensitivities to sensory inputs such as noise, fluorescent light, touch and smell.

These sensitivities can make certain environments (like crowded public spaces, workplaces or even their own homes) overwhelming, limiting their ability to function independently in those settings.

LED lights can save the day at home, but at the traditional workplace, the Autist would need sunglasses.

But sunglasses don’t always solve the problem.

Since we live in a world that’s prevalently illuminated by fluorescent lighting, this would make it difficult for Autistics who have sensitivity to such to conduct basic errands, let alone function effectively in the workplace.

Sensitivities to noise can be accommodated more easily with earplugs, but if the sensitivity is profound, this would limit job opportunities and perhaps preclude the ability to drive.

Aversions to common smells and typical crowds would also limit community excursions.

Rigid Thinking and Resistance to Change

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Many people with “mild” autism exhibit rigid thinking patterns and a strong preference for routines.

There exists a sub-spectrum here in that an unexpected change or an anticipated transition can cause a range of responses in an autistic person.

If the response is more severe, then the disruptions in routines that may occur at the workplace can make it difficult for that individual to keep the job.

Employment Challenges

Speaking of jobs – getting one depends on an interview, which for some Autistics can be pretty rough to navigate.

Job interviews often rely heavily on social skills and the ability to read social cues.

The range of obstacles is pretty big, from avoiding eye contact with the interviewer, showing confusion over the interviewer’s friendly sarcasm, answering questions inappropriately, asking inappropriate questions and fidgeting too much, to name a few.

Keep in mind that there are other Autists who’ve rehearsed how to do job interviews and have no problems getting through them.

They know to give a firm handshake, keep a nice smile going and give eye contact. They also hope they don’t get stung with a question that they have not prepared an answer for.

Some autistic people can breeze through an interview in full mask mode, but then the mask of “acting normal” slips off once they’re hired. Depending on workplace dynamics, they can end up getting fired for simply not fitting in.

Interpersonal Relationship Difficulties

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Building and maintaining relationships can be challenging for those with HFA.

This can lead to isolation and reliance on family members for support.

Independent living often requires a network of supportive relationships, which can be harder to establish for individuals with social communication difficulties.

Anxiety and Mental Health Issues


Co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are common in high functioning Autistics.

Depending on the degree of these conditions, they can be obstacles to independent living.

Final Thoughts

With all that said, you should never assume that just because someone’s autistic that they can’t live fully independently.

It all depends on how their autism uniquely manifests and what kind of support and environment comprised their childhood, as well as current supports, if any.

Plenty of Autistics live entirely on their own — including those who never even needed more support than does the average typical young adult.

In fact, you may know very self-sufficient people with autism and not even know they’re on the Spectrum.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical and fitness topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. In 2022 she received a diagnosis of Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder. 


­Top image: ©Lorra Garrick