How “functional” am I *really*?

(I’m issuing a potential Trigger Warning for marine life empaths.)

Apparently, about 96.5% of all water on earth is salt water (link to Universe Today).  That leaves only 3.5% of the water on earth as fresh water.

Aside from a few select fish that can survive in both environments (link to LiveScience), a fish is either designated as a “freshwater fish” or a “saltwater fish”, and can only survive in their specific environment.

If a type of fish is inadvertently placed in the wrong environment, the fish will perish.

However, if we knew that the fish was in an environment incompatible for that type of fish…

…we do not say that something is wrong with the fish.

The fish will obviously not do very well in the wrong environment.  It will indeed slow down and become sick.  It will eventually die.

Aspie/autistic people are much like freshwater fish.  (We don’t need all that “salt” bull; we do just fine–better, in fact–without it.)

And the world at large is pretty dang salty.  So are many (although not all) of its allistic people.  And the saltier that environment gets, the less we freshwater fish can function.

An observer might look in on a fish in an incompatible environment, and if that observer didn’t know better, they would say that there certainly appears to be something wrong with the fish.  The fish isn’t moving much.  The fish might change color.  Obviously, there would be signs of ill health and distress.

Much like the uninformed observer, the allistic world is uninformed about us.  The allistic world (generally) doesn’t understand us, how we think, how we feel, how we operate, or what we need.  As we flounder and gasp for survival in an incompatible world, they might scratch their heads and wonder, “what’s wrong with him/her/them?”

The truth is, nothing is wrong with us, per se.  We’re not floundering and struggling any more or less than an allistic person would flounder and struggle cluelessly if surrounded by Aspie/autistic people, in an Asperger’s/autism spectrum-dominated world.

But since we’re outnumbered, we’re the ones who struggle to connect, to live, to “function”.

Some fish are more resilient, more adaptable.  They’re much more tolerant of minor-to-moderate changes in the salinity of their water.  Does that make them “better” fish?  Are they more valuable as beings?

Some fish are very sensitive; they can only tolerate very narrow, subtle changes to the salinity of their environment before they begin to fade.  Does that make them “lesser” fish?  Are they less valuable as beings?  Does the world need them any less?

The same holds true for people on the spectrum.  Some of us are more resilient, while others are more sensitive.  Does that change our worth and value as people?  Does the world need us any more or less?

And of course, whether they realize it or not, the same holds true for allistic people; some are more adaptable to the world around them, while others are not.  Some are more embracing and accepting of neurodiversity, while others are not.  Some are very rigid, and others are quite flexible.  The world needs all kinds.

A fish’s salinity-type and tolerance range is going to remain relatively constant throughout its life.  Of course, there might be some variation here; the general health of the fish is going to exert an influence.  An otherwise adaptable fish in poor health might not actually be so adaptable after all, at least not as much as might be expected, not as much as they might “supposed to be”.

The same holds true for people.  Any person (on or off the spectrum) might lose their adaptability and resilience when sick or otherwise impaired.

Now, for the kicker: a person’s tolerance, adaptability, resilience, etc might vary throughout the course of one’s life.  In fact, it might vary from day to day.  And in reality, it might vary from hour to hour.

So when the term “function” is thrown around, and “levels of function” are discussed and assessed, what’s really being said here?  Do the experts, researchers, and medical/psychological professionals even know what they’re saying?  (And, in addition, do they know what kind of effect that might have?)

What they’re really looking at is a snapshot of an individual at a particular point in space and time.  And they’re making a lifelong diagnostic judgment about that one snapshot.


I can tell you, firsthand, that my “level of function” isn’t set in stone; in fact, it’s pretty subjective and my range of function is all over the map. Any of the following can severely impair my “level of function”:

  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) – if I haven’t eaten in a while
  • Inadequate diet – either not enough intake, or not enough fresh, whole foods
  • Sleep deprivation – I’ve been intermittently-but-frequently insomniac for almost seven years
  • Physical pain – for me, usually a headache, low back stiffness, herniated cervical (neck) disc, or–up until very recently–intense dental pain
  • Inflammation – localized to one body area or systemic
  • Getting exposed to gluten (wheat) – I have Celiac Disease, so gluten causes “brain fog”, extreme irritability, extreme depression, learning disabilities, short-term memory problems, and extreme fatigue.  Go me.
  • Time of the month (hormones) – I’m a premenopausal biological female
  • Histamine attack – intense, violent, and random–for the past almost-seven years
  • Oxygen deprivation (mold or anemia) – I’d been anemic for 24 years, and I’ve had mold exposure for probably the past….seven years
  • Emotions like anxiety, under-appreciation, shunning, shaming, bullying, sadness, loneliness, etc.
  • Overwhelm – being out and about too much
  • Being surrounded by or exposed to the wrong people – aggressive, hateful, spiteful, pretentious, entitled, trolling, bitter, etc.
  • Stress, personal rejection – listed separately because of their specific ability to make my “functioning” disappear altogether
  • Grief, sorrow, others’ suffering – also listed separately because of their specific ability to dissolve all hope of “functioning”, for longer periods of time

If you saw me on a “pain day”, a “gluten day”, or especially an “extreme stress day”, or perhaps under a PTSD flashback, you might think, “oh my gosh, she needs help.  Diagnosis: low-functioning”.  But they would’ve missed my “good days” of “higher functioning”.

What about those days where I’ve slept sufficiently, eaten well, avoided histamine and gluten, and I’m pain-free?  I’m off like a shooting star, impressing even my persnickety, demanding self with what I can accomplish.  If someone were to observe me on a day like that, they would think, “why does this girl even think she has a problem?  I don’t see any problem.  Diagnosis: fine.”  And they would’ve missed my challenges altogether.

It’s a range, not a single set point.

The truth is that I’m still a freshwater fish.  The bulleted list above are factors that increase the “saltiness” of my water.  If I haven’t had to deal with much (or anything) on that list in a while, my water isn’t salty and thus, I can “function”.  But if I have, then I can’t.

How “functional” I am (we are?) depends on how salty our water is and how resilient we happen to be at that particular time.

When a freshwater fish dies in saltwater, we don’t say something’s wrong with the fish.  Along the same vein, when someone “with” Asperger’s/autism has been saturated with a caustic allistic world, then by the same token, we shouldn’t say that something’s wrong with the person.


This post is one of my more popular posts!


(Image Credit: Sasha Fantom)


  1. Yes! I’m definitely a fresh water fish… and whilst I was wrecked upon my self woven spider web of self neglect, lost in tangles.. I did have some very lucid and ” active”( for me) times… overall the pain and fatigue was outweighed by the shared honesty and being able to be me. Still need a good week or more to rest and gradually surface.
    Thanks for the post, well timed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words! I’m glad to have offered support. 😊 I’m so sorry to hear about the tangled webs; it happens to the best of us. I’m hoping it’s all behind you now? It’s good for us fresh water fish to stick together ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

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