Today, I want to talk about functioning labels. I am going to describe a couple of people to help you understand them.
Eliza is Autistic. Despite that, she is very independent, very well read, and articulate. She has her driver’s license and can travel on her own by car or even by using public transit. She can speak at events in front of large crowds. She has many friends who she enjoys visiting and partying with. When she was a teenager, she was the one left in charge of her siblings and also the one who cooked dinner every night. She runs an event planning and crafting business. She is married and cooks dinner for her and her husband. She is very detail-oriented and loves helping others when she can.
Beth is also Autistic, but has trouble remembering to feed herself and sometimes has trouble even remembering to use the bathroom until her bladder feels like it’s going to burst. She has trouble keeping her living area clean. She shuts down easily, which also causes her to become non-verbal. When she does speak, the processing from her thoughts to her mouth is very slow most of the time. When she is stressed or anxious, unless she has a stim toy, she picks at her skin until there are bloody sores. She also gets so engrossed in what she is currently doing that she loses track of time or forgets tasks that she needs to accomplish. She cannot live on her own and cannot hold down even a part-time job that has to deal with people in person on a regular basis.
Which one of these ladies is high functioning and which is low functioning?
Neither! The labels are meaningless. Both ladies described are actually me! (My middle name is Elizabeth.) Some days I can do a lot of things, other days I cannot. I am just Autistic. There is no singular, universal way to describe how I function. If you have met one Autistic person, you have met one Autistic person.
Functioning labels are generally used to either dismiss what we can do, or to deny us accommodations. And that’s a load of bullshit. So please, do not use functioning labels. We are simply Autistic.