Please, Don’t Call Me High Functioning

*stands on soap box*

I don’t believe in “high” or “low” functioning.  Labeling me as one or the other has become… degrading.  It’s disrespectful and dismissive.

A friend of mine recently observed how people talk about “high” and “low” functioning autism as if they’re two different entities.  When really, they’re one and the same.  They’ve evolved to mean the exact same thing….  It’s subjective.  Either label elevates the person doing the labeling as “above” – and the individual they’re speaking about/to as “below.”

Most of the time when society tries to label me, it’s usually not even directed to me but spoken to someone nearby, almost as if I’m not there.  Almost as if I wouldn’t understand what they’re saying.  Almost as if they’d expect that I wouldn’t be paying attention….

When you label me as High Functioning – it feels to me like you’re saying (and you HAVE said) “You’re making excuses…” and “You do so well in life for a disabled person!”  Look, I have good and bad days.  They go hand in hand, just like every single other person I know….  When I have a good day, I light up inside.  I feel a sense of pride.  When I have a bad day, I become anxious and emotional.

High Functioning makes me feel like less of a person.  It’s like saying “Wow!  You have a job!  You understand money!  You’re so high functioning for an Autistic!”  It’s almost as if it’s expected that deep down inside, I’m a deeply retarded individual who is incapable of independence and being a productive member of society.  It feels as if you’re mocking me… that makes me uncomfortable.  Extremely uncomfortable. And frustrated.

While many of you have intentionally said it as a backhanded compliment (usually when I’m being compared to someone else), I do understand that a few of you say it like it’s a good thing, and you’re intentions are kind.  Thank you, but the feeling doesn’t change.  You don’t need to comment on my level of ability, and how well I manage for myself.  Even good intentions can at times be demeaning, especially when it’s about a persons developmental capabilities.

Everyone likes praise!  I certainly love and feed off of affirmation.  With that said, maybe compliment my hair, or my eyes, or compliment how amazing I am at my job.  Tell me that I contribute so much, and they’re lucky to have me.  Hell, if you want to win brownie points, tell me that it’s awesome that I’m a girl who loves to game, and that I do it well.  *thumbs up*

Someone recently told me that if I’m high functioning, I’m not autistic.  They accused me of being a “fake” and that “high functioning autistics don’t understand what real Autism is.”

Again, I’m not high functioning.  I believe in the spectrum, and my life is only one example of Autism, but by labeling me “high” you dismiss the struggles that I do have to battle through on a daily basis.

With no disrespect, but if you’re accusing me of not understanding Autism, then you don’t really understand Autism, as Autism is a “spectrum disorder.”  You haven’t observed me enough to understand my behavior.  You haven’t spoken with me enough to ask questions about the processes of my thoughts.  You haven’t walked a step in my shoes.  I don’t judge your life, or decide for you what is real and what isn’t.  So don’t do that with me.

I have days that I do really well.  I don’t rock, I’m not overly anxious, my words come out controlled and clear and I can actually hear myself think.  But I also have my meltdown moments and days.  They’re less often than ever before, but they still happen…..  If you saw me in one of those moments though, I guarantee you wouldn’t look at me the same.  Maybe.  You probably wouldn’t understand everything, but I’ve learned that people are more understanding of what they see, and not what they hear, so you might actually learn something.

Autism doesn’t mean “stupid” or “incapable” it literally means “developmental delays.”  So the way I was at 7 (behind the social curve, barely speaking full sentences, obsessed with one thing and one thing only at any given time) – is vastly different to the way I am now at 29 (a productive member of society with several interests).  I have structure, methods, and the know-how that I didn’t have before.  All of that doesn’t mean that I’m not without my daily challenges.

So please, I beg of you… let go of the “high” and “low” labels.

High discounts my struggles, and Low discounts my skills and potential.

You don’t need to categorize me (or anyone else).  I am first and foremost a woman.  I’m a woman who works an amazing job, in a very professional corporate environment.  I live independently, and no one holds my hand.  I just also happen to be autistic, and that makes me stronger.  It does not define me as a “high or lower functioning individual.”  It doesn’t define me at all.  It’s just part of who I am.

*steps down off my soap box and drops the mic*

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