Although the brilliant post by My Dream Walden is short and sweet, it’s powerful; it says it all.
The general consensus among the medical/psychological professionals is to classify people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum according to their (perceived, momentary) levels of “function”. That is to say that when someone on the spectrum speaks, writes, has a job, has friends, has children, or is in a relationship, that they are (so-called) “high-functioning”. And if not, then they are deemed to be “low-functioning”.
The general consensus among the Asperger’s/autistic community is, in short: bullshit. Generally speaking, the tide is turning against the use of the “high/low functioning” labels, for so many reasons, because not the least of which is that they are wrong on so many levels.
I agree with the latter. Speaking for myself, I can say that my ability to function changes, sometimes literally from minute to minute.
Putting people in a box is understandable, since that’s the only way that non-autistic professionals can attempt to determine what kind of (paltry) supports an autistic person might need, without asking them. And the existence of subcategories helps puffed-chested egotistical authorities feel better about themselves. Maybe that has to do with job security or something. I haven’t asked them.
Hypocrisy these days (tongue-in-cheek, if you will). 😉
Functioning labels (I.e., to call someone “high functioning” or “low functioning”) does damage to all of us.
The potential damage to those who get labeled as “low functioning” is pretty obvious. Who wants to be thought of that way? Where’s the hope in that? It invites cruel jokes and put downs, and perpetuates the myth of autism as a tragedy, and autistic people are a burden on society that must be stamped out. As if a person has to “earn their keep” in order to be seen as a human being and “justify” taking up space on the planet or something.
There damage done to those of us who would be labeled as “high functioning” is a bit more subtle, but is just as real and just as devastating.
To be labeled “high-functioning” is not a compliment.
It’s merely “praise” for looking “less autistic” and “more normal”. To say that I come across as more neurotypical is not a compliment. Additionally, it reinforces the idea that it’s myself who needs to do all the changing and adapting. It also gives positive reinforcement to a survival strategy that is ultimately detrimental to my health and wellbeing. It denies the effort that it takes to do this and makes the assumption that it’s easy; that “anyone can do it”, that it just comes naturally.
For someone who gets labeled this way, the implication, as I interpret it, seems to be that because one functions more “highly”, they are somehow “less autistic”, are held to higher expectations, have fewer “legitimate” “excuses” for having a bad day or not living “up to” neurotypical (non-autistic) “standards”, and are assumed to be fine without support.
“Save the limited resources for those in ‘real’ need”, might sayeth the Powers That Be, especially in times of lean budgetary crunch. (Never mind that they couldn’t be more wrong.)
Meanwhile, we’re not allowed to have a meltdown, to lose our words, or otherwise have a bad day.
And these horrendous ramifications assume that the professionals assigned the “right” label. Imagine if they didn’t…
What if, on the day and time of my assessment, I was having a particularly good day, or a particularly bad day? My own autism is a spectrum in itself, a range between being particularly verbal, adept at communication, productive at work, interaction goes smoothly, I feel like I can accomplish anything and I’m on top of the world, and all is calm, all is bright…
…and then there are days when I’m millimeters away from a meltdown, or maybe a several-day shutdown, where the stress has piled up and reached critical mass, and I can’t decide what I want on my burrito, much less capable of answering questions about my life from decades ago, some of the information being painful to recall or complex to string together in some semblance of order.
What if I’m deemed to have greater or lesser “function” on Judgment (Assessment) Day than is otherwise appropriate? What if the professional’s perception isn’t 100% accurate? (Less-than-perfection has been known to occur among humans, after all.)
I think function-labeling is harmful, no matter what. It almost seems to assign a value to a person and assume a set of expectations (or lack thereof) that either exert undue pressure or act as a glass ceiling of sorts.
Rather, much like My Dream Walden (whose entire blog is excellent!), I consider myself hard-functioning. On the days I feel more productive, competent, and smooth, I’m trying hard. On the days when nothing is going right and I’m nearing the dreaded meltdown or shutdown, I’m trying even harder. The effort doesn’t vary; it’s always 100% of whatever I’ve got to give at any given moment; it’s only the results, the fruits of that labor, that vary.
Because my effort is consistently that of my maximum, I don’t feel that it’s fair or accurate to assign an arbitrary “function level” label, nor its accompanying equally-arbitrary sets of expectations or differential esteem or implied value to society or assumed level of support needed. I don’t believe that a one-time value judgment is warranted, morally/ethically correct, or even constructive. Nor is such a one-dimensional third-party view representative of my entire multifaceted life.
Thank you to My Dream Walden for posting what you did; it truly inspired me. 🙂