This isn’t going to be a fully formed blog post. I just wanted to address this question because it comes up all the time on HSP Facebook groups.

The question is: Is being autistic (or having Asperger’s syndrome) related to being a Highly Sensitive Person?

The answer is no, according to Dr. Elaine Aron.

The criteria for an autism disorder or Asperger’s syndrome, however, have no overlap with high sensitivity as defined here and found in 20% of the population. Many autistic persons are distressed by high levels of specific kinds of stimulation, but they can be unfazed by other types, especially social cues. In contrast, sensitive persons can tolerate high levels of stimulation without becoming utterly confused or violent, and they use increasingly appropriate ways of reducing stimulation as they mature. Further, the sensitivity in autism is due to faulty use of sensory information, not processing it to deeper levels.”

-from Aron’s book Psychotherapy and the Highly Sensitive Person

She addresses it again in a blog post on her site. She says that all autistic disorders have “severe, sustained, pervasive impairment in social functioning, plus highly restricted interests or repetitive activities. And sensitivity to sensory stimulation or sensitive sensory processing is never mentioned in the diagnostic criteria for ASDs. So to put it simply, according to the DSM, the normal temperament trait of high sensitivity, found in 15 to 20% of humans (and apparently all higher animals) would have nothing to do with being a high functioning person on an autistic spectrum. source

Yet again, in another post, she writes, “And just to settle a related issue, being highly sensitive is not ‘high functioning autism’ or Asperger’s Syndrome. It is not anywhere on the ‘autistic spectrum.’ Those with autistic disorders have brains that for some reason did not ‘prune’ the neuronal net enough or properly, a process that occurs in infancy. As a result, they are processing too much stimulation also, but all the time and for a much different reason. It’s easy to tell the difference, too. Those on the autistic spectrum have had trouble almost since birth with recognizing and responding appropriately to “socio-emotional cues”–what others are thinking and feeling, regardless of words. They have to memorize how to respond to someone who feels sad or angry. HSPs are just the opposite–they feel too aware of these cues. The only exceptions are those HSPs who have ‘shut down’ emotionally due to events in their early childhood, but they were not born this way and their brains are not structured in the same way as someone autistic from birth.”

So there you go! Straight from Dr. Aron herself.