Functioning labels are a distinction created to class autistic people into neat little boxes. However, these little boxes don’t help others understand us any better; in fact, they play into the many misconceptions surrounding autism spectrum disorders. And, to make matters worse, functioning labels are used to oppress autistic people. When’s the last time someone called you either high-functioning or low-functioning? Did you feel bad about it? Good about it? Okay about it, until you thought about it a little more?
Most of us, at one time or another, have fallen into the trap of wanting to be seen as as high-functioning as possible. It means we’re fitting in, we reason. It means we’re almost “normal”. But inside we hurt and we don’t know why. It’s because we’ve compromised ourselves trying to become something that we’re not. Autism is not a race, and no one’s going to get an award for the best ability to blend in with neurotypical people! If we choose this as our goal–to be something we’re not–we’re only going to end up disappointed. We’ll feel ashamed and defective. With all the ableism in the world that surrounds us already, we don’t need to be enemies with our own self-worth!
Low-functioning labels are similarly detrimental to our wellbeing. Who wants a label that essentially says they’re not a functioning person? We are people–no matter what people try to label us as. The people who call us low-functioning are using it to put us down and tell us that we don’t matter. These are the same people who talk about us in front of us and think we’re not listening. These are the people who treat us like we’re dirt because they can’t wait to get rid of us. They are saying our opinions and feelings don’t matter because we’re not people–and that is, frankly, not the case at all.
Autism is a spectrum, and not in the high-to-low way; it is a spectrum within each individual, and it even changes from time to time, from environment to environment, etc. As autistic people, our abilities, strengths, and challenges vary greatly depending upon the context we find ourselves in. For example, I may be able to seem neurotypical while socializing in one context–perhaps I am in a good environment and with people I’m comfortable with–and I might be regarded as high-functioning, but in other context–perhaps I am tired or anxious or the environment is overwhelming–I may have significant behavioral and communication challenges to the point of appearing low-functioning.
No matter whether we are personally labeled as high-functioning or low-functioning, these labels are detrimental to all of us–both individually and as a community. So that’s why I say: F*%$ YOUR FUNCTIONING LABELS!