Updated: Nov 14
The trouble with functioning labels is that the autistic person always looses out. If said to be high functioning then people assume that everything is easy and wonderful, with rainman stereotypes thrown in, but that invalidates the very difficult struggles the person still faces in everyday life. Conversely if labelled 'low' functioning, a person is often written off, infantilised and not given opportunities to education or employment. This may simply be because the person does not possess language, but in reality people can still communicate in other ways. For example there are many autistic writers that do not have verbal language, but are very articulate in their written words. Perhaps it is not about grouping people at all, but individualising their specific support plan based on their unique strengths and other co-occurring conditions. In that way, the word autism is a valid umbrella term, but not as a label. Only a starting point. As an autistic person, that's what I think anyway. The difficulties all autistic people face are so diverse and complex that you would need to delve into the details anyway, even if you first used a functioning label. We can no longer just be quickly labelled, like a supermarket commodity and stuck on a shelf for the rest of our lives. We are on a journey of development, faced with challenges both obvious and very subtle, but all just as challenging in our lives. Let our language be clear and plain. High and low functioning labels are inherently ableist, so let's cut them out.